Stephane Dahirel, an intensive farmer in Brittany, France, believes that his method of farming chicken can provide meat with a low carbon footprint. With a flock of 30,000 chickens that triple in size in less than a month, Dahirel aims to produce the best meat, in the least amount of time and with minimal food consumption. These snow-white chickens, bred mostly for McDonald's nuggets, reach their slaughter weight in just 45 days, compared to the longer time it takes on traditional farms.
Chicken has the smallest carbon footprint among meats, emitting less than half the CO2 produced by pork, and 30 times less than beef, according to the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). This is due to chickens emitting very little planet-warming methane. Dahirel insists that intensive farming is the most efficient and rational system for producing economical and ecological meat.
However, there are significant drawbacks to intensive farming practices. While Dahirel claims low emissions for his chickens, the production of grain to feed them requires large amounts of land, synthetic fertilizers, and pesticides. These inputs have detrimental effects on biodiversity and water quality. The environmental impact is evident in Dahirel's native Brittany, where green algae blooms, partly caused by intensive livestock production, have led to outcry and fatalities.
Concerns are also raised about animal welfare in intensive farming. Dahirel houses 20 chickens per square meter and emphasizes the importance of a homogeneous product, leading to abnormal or sick chickens being killed. Critics argue that the focus on carbon emissions alone is misguided, as chicken consumption has soared in recent years, becoming one of the most widely consumed meats globally.
Experts argue for a broader approach, focusing on reducing overall meat consumption rather than simply substituting beef with chicken. While intensive chicken farming may offer a promising option for reducing carbon emissions, it is essential to consider the wider environmental impact and animal welfare in sustainable food production.