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Chickens on traditional free range poultry farm

‘Eco-friendly’ chicken comes at a cost, Greenpeace says

Image credit: Monticelllo - Dreamstime

British consumers substituting red meat for chicken in an effort to live a greener lifestyle may be unwittingly contributing to the razing of rainforests, Greenpeace has said.

With sales of chicken rising in Britain, the environmental pressure group warned of the hidden climate impact of raising the birds, whose feed is mainly grown in South America. This means rising consumption could further endanger rainforests, which are already shrinking by millions of hectares each year.

“I really don’t think consumers are aware of this link to the extent they should be,” said Chiara Vitali, the lead author of the report and a forest campaigner at Greenpeace UK.

“The message that has been coming across so far is that we need to be cutting red meat so it’s OK to switch to something like chicken and unfortunately that is not the case,” she added, urging consumers instead to eat more plant-based food.

According to Greenpeace analysis of official household purchase data, demand for beef, lamb and pork has fallen sharply in Britain over the past 20 years. However, this decrease has been offset by a 20 per cent increase in the consumption of chicken.

A survey by Leatherhead Food Research published in September last year found consumers are buying less red meat due to concerns over health and the impact on the climate. However, Greenpeace has argued the demand for soybeans that are used to make poultry feed has been helping to drive the destruction of South American forests that act as carbon sinks.

Furthermore, a survey of 23 leading British supermarkets, fast-food restaurants and food companies found none were tracking whether soy used for animal feed in their supply chains was linked to deforestation, the report said.

Around 68 per cent of Britain’s soy imports come from South America, according to data from a government-led initiative to encourage sustainable soy. Also, about 90 per cent of the soy the European Union (EU) imports is used to feed livestock.

In response to the report by the environmental group, the British Retail Consortium said that British shops were working to combat deforestation and to increase the use of certified sustainable soy in supply chains.

Meanwhile, Global Canopy, an environmental group that works with companies to halt deforestation, has said the loss of tropical forests creates an estimated eight per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions.

In August 2019, Goldsmiths, University of London, announced it banned the sale of beef on its campus to combat climate change, becoming the first higher education institution in Britain to do so. Meanwhile back in April, Burger King partnered with Impossible Foods – a meat-alternative start-up – to trial a meat-free version of its signature Whopper sandwich.

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