Chickens raised for meat are confined in large buildings with no access to pasture or outdoor spaces. (Photo: USDA)

The sheer scale of modern meat production is staggering. In the United States alone nearly 1 million chickens are killed every hour, according to CAFO.

The U.S. consumer’s switch to healthier chicken meat from beef has meant a surge in demand for chicken. In addition, Americans are eating more meat (not to mention more food) overall. The result:  U.S. residents consume 77 pounds of chicken per person every year.

No wonder chicken farms have been consolidated into contract farms that warehouse birds in giant, darkened buildings and raise them from chick to slaughter in less than two months. The consequences of this hyper-production are myriad: Chicken farmers have been converted into factory contractors; chicken assembly line workers endure work conditions that lead to disabling health problems like repetitive motion syndromes.

Meanwhile, massive quantities of grain are diverted to livestock that could be sent to hungry families around the world. Essayists in CAFO argue that spreading a meat-intensive diet around the world is a formula for famine. The energy inputs and outputs just don’t scale up. In the chapter “Myth: Industrial Food is Efficient,” Imhoff reports that to gain a pound of body weight a broiler chicken must eat an average of 2.3 pounds of feed.