chickens on pasture

While the breed-changing demand involves chickens, it does illustrate the changing tide among retailers and consumers alike. It also puts recent dairy controversies such as tail docking into clearer perspective.

In a step against genetic selection for production-based factors, Whole Foods Market will demand that its suppliers repopulate chicken barns with breeds that focus on improved immune and musculoskeletal systems. In making the change, Whole Foods Markets will use chicken breeds like Red Ranger and Naked Neck, which are contrary to the 98 percent of breeds now found on farms. The change must be made by 2024.

While these chicken breeds may tout improved health, skeletons and muscle proportions, those Whole Foods-supported chickens require roughly 23 percent more time to reach the market size favored by packers. To put it another way, those chickens require more feed, time and energy. How does that fit into sustainability?

Sustainability is a word that has a variety of definitions based on one's perspective. At least when it comes to the raising the slower-growing birds, the process will become 23 percent less efficient. Time will tell if consumers will buy these higher-priced birds for dinner.

The Wall Street Journal calculated that farmers can raise a 5.3-pound chicken in 35 days using 8 pounds of feed. Compare that to 30 years ago, when it took 7 pounds of feed to raise a 3-pound bird over the same time span.

The chicken breed debate accelerates the food debate in which restaurant chains such as McDonald's and Subway outlined plans to scale back antibiotics fed to animals.

To learn more about the Whole Foods Market concept, read the Global Animal Partnership (GAP) plans for growing chickens.

Whole Foods Market has used the GAP standard since 2011. More than 600 chicken farms currently use the GAP standard. That involves 277 million chickens.

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2016
April 4, 2016
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