Monday, November 18, 2013

The six-winged chicken

At the beginning of this century three quarters of global chicken production is in the hands of agri-business companies. In the United States, Tyson process 41 million chickens per week, the PHW group in Germany has a 40 percent market share of chicken, 70 percent of the market for chicken breeding and control 80 percent of the market vaccines for poultry production[i]. In 2013, Seara Brazil’s 32 plants slaughter about 1.7 million chickens daily, according to the company’s website[ii]

And it is in light of this we should see that chicken consumption has increased five times in hundred years in the USA and ten times from 1961 to 2009 globally[iii], while beef consumption is more or less stable[iv]. Globally diners still eat more pork—some 114m tonnes a year compared with 106m tonnes for poultry. But chicken consumption is growing faster—by 2.5% a year compared with 1.5% for pig meat. Chicken is also to a much larger extent a traded commodity, some 13.3m tonnes a year is shipped compared with 8.6m tonnes of beef and 7.2m tonnes of pork.[v]

The birds themselves are torn into pieces and reconfigured in a multitude of products such as nuggets and strips. As the Smithsonian Magazine says: “chicken farming has been a vast national experiment in supply-side gastro-economics[vi]”.  The development of the broiler production was parallelled by developments on the, processing, marketing and consumer side. In 1930, the then 40-year-old Harland Sanders, who never were a real Colonel, was operating a service station in Corbin, Kentucky, and it was there that he began cooking for hungry travelers who stopped in for gas. He invented what's called “home meal replacement” – selling complete meals to busy, time-strapped families. He called it, “Sunday Dinner, Seven Days a Week.”  In 1955, confident of the quality of his fried chicken, Sanders devoted himself to developing his chicken franchising business, Kentucky Fried Chicken. Less than 10 years later, Sanders had more than 600 KFC franchises in the U.S. and Canada. 

In 1964 KFC got new owners. It went public in 1966, was listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 1969 and eventually was acquired by PepsiCo, Inc. in 1986. In 1997, PepsiCo, Inc. spun-off of its quick service restaurants – including KFC – into an independent restaurant company, Tricon Global Restaurants, Inc. Today, the restaurant company (now YUM! Brands, Inc.), is the world's largest in terms of system units with nearly 37,000 in more than 110 countries  and territories. 

Lately chicken wings have gained popularity and in the Unite States 1.23 billion chicken wings were eaten at Super Bowl Weekend. The National Chicken Council laments: “A chicken has two wings, and chicken companies are not able to produce wings without the rest of the chicken. Therefore, the supply of wings is limited by the total number of chickens produced.” Surprisingly there are no genetically modified chicken in the market.  A four winged chicken ready for Super Bowl should not be a tall order – or why not six wings? 

(extract from the new book in the making, or perhaps extract from draft of the new book in the making)

[i] Excessive Industrialization of Livestock production: the Need for a New Agricultural Paradign, Friedrich Ostendorrf in Trade and Environment Review 2013.
[ii] Monday, June 10th 2013 - Brazil JBS becomes largest chicken producer; purchases main tannery in Uruguay,
[iii] How Food made History, B.H. Higman
[v] Henmania, Chicken is set to rule the roost in the global meat market
Sep 14th 2013,
[vi] Smithonian Magazine, How the Chicken Conquered the World, Smithsonian magazine, June 2012,

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