Impotent roosters wreak havoc in an industry that's already a mess

rooster closeup

Meat consumers are worried that there won't be enough chicken to go around, but there are much more important things to worry about.

The world’s largest poultry breeding company, Aviagen Group, has encountered aproblem with its roosters. Apparently, a certain genetic tweak has created an inclination in the roosters to overeat, making them impotent. (Breeders tweak the birds’ genetics on a regular basis.) This is problematic for the factory farming industry because these roosters – the standard Ross male – are responsible for fertilizing 25 percent of chickens raised for slaughter in the United States. The hatching failure rate is up to 17 percent from the usual 15 percent.

Meat-eating consumers are up in arms. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported in June that this year’s poultry production forecast has been lowered by 195 million pounds. At the same time, international demand for U.S. poultry is on the rise. Slate reports that the chicken shortage comes at an inconvenient time, since “a deadly pig virus has decimated the pork supply, while the domestic cattle herd is at its lowest level in more than 60 years.”

There are so many things wrong with this story that I don’t even know where to begin. First of all, are people actually surprised that this problem has occurred? We have created a system in which animals are so genetically altered that they are incapable of reproducing without assistance. Despite factory farming’s claims of being necessary for feeding the hungry billions, it is the last system anyone should support if they genuinely care about feeding people sustainably over the long term.

Second, factory-farmed poultry has destroyed genetic diversity. It’s tragic that the impotence of a single rooster variety must have such a significant impact on the American poultry supply. Once upon a time, there were dozens of different chickens once raised for consumption (Jersey Giants, Plymouth Rock, New Hampshire breeds, etc.).

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