The Life of a Swedish 'Climate Smart' Chicken: Nasty, Brutish, Short?

Swedish Chickens Lives Nasty Brutish Short%3F photo

photo chaps1 at flickr

The 'kycklingdebat' or chicken debate is hot in Swedes' minds since Svenska Dagbladet (SvD), on of the country's two main dailies, published a long report on the short lives of the 74 million chickens annually born and bred here.

Swedes are eating more and more chicken meat and have been encouraged by both pundits and industry to do so, as chickens are supposedly more climate friendly than either pigs or beef cattle, notorious consumers of food and water. But SvD's report may chill some hearts, as the findings point to a case of mass, industrialized food production where chicken health isn't first place. And the 'climate smart' designation? Relatively on.

Swedish Chickens Lives Nasty Brutish Short

photo by basheertome @ flickr

More chickens and faster from less food than 50 years ago
It takes just 33 days for a new-born chicken to reach its slaughter weight of around 2 kilos (4.4 pounds) in Sweden. That's using far less food than in the 1950's. Just 1.75 kilos of food pellets produce about a kilo of meat and approximately 1.7 kilos of CO2 equivalent methane gas, which is why the chickens are considered climate smart. They are smarter, so to speak, than pig meat or cow meat, and bettered only by Norway's legendary farmed salmon, where .95 kilos of food get a kilo of flesh.

But none of these meats could compete with the climate friendly Swedish bean stew featured previously in TreeHugger.

Climate chicken is a fast-growing, but not exactly hearty breed
Hale and hearty vegetarian TreeHuggers should desist with this story now, as the climate-smart chicken's life is no green-grass Elysian field. These modern chickens' lungs grow more slowly than the rest of their bodies, increasing the risk for high blood pressure and organ problems, according to SvD's story. An average of 1.34 percent of the chickens are rejected for food use due to health problems. (Up to 2 percent of 'eco' chickens don't make the cut.) Also, wing and leg problems are getting more common in the few fast-growing chicken types left from chick producers including Tyson.

When the Swedish chickens are ready for slaughter they either are stunned with CO2 or dunked in an electric-laced bath, before they are beheaded. The chickens cost just over $.50 to raise and are sold to the slaughterhouse for about $2.25. Swedes eat ever-more chicken, clinging to the notion that it is climate smart, which it is ONLY when compared to other meat sources, and only when it is domestically produced. Yet because of increased consumption masses more chicken is imported than a decade ago, when nearly all chicken was domestically produced. That means all cheap chicken (and nearly all restaurant chicken) is from sources such as Brazil and Thailand, i.e. not climate smart.

Swedish chicken producers are proud of their methods, say the promise a salmonella-free and no growth hormone chicken, and are working to make the product more climate-smart by increasing the use of domestic feed and reusing bed straw and chicken manure to produce biogas for warming up chicken houses. Swedish standards for care of chickens are extremely high, say producers, and constantly improving. Via: Svenska Dagbladet (Swedish)
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