Thursday, May 14, 2015

A few well-deserved squawks about what’s wrong with chicken farming — and how it’s going to smack the average American cluck square in the wallet

Let me start this discussion of chickens with a mention of beef steak. You remember beef steak, don’t you? 
Henny Penny told Chicken Licken that
the sky was falling. She didn't know
the half of it.
It came from cattle. It was red and gave off tantalizing aromas as it broiled and charred. It sizzled noisily sometimes. It came off the grill almost black the outside, and pink, juicy, and flavorful on the inside. Sometimes it came attached to a bone that you could gnaw on while your dog sat under the table, begging. And unless you were very  poor you could afford it on a fairly regular basis.

Well, that went away for a lot of people. Cattle growers began discovering that the price of feed was too high because chemical and bioengineering companies had instituted practices that were driving up grain prices. In addition, the price of corn was  driven up by people who were snapping it up not to eat, but to turn into ethanol. Today, we burn up about 10 percent of our corn crop in our automobiles. Check the chart. That annually-growing swatch of yellow metastasis  is corn-derived ethanol.

But there were always chicken and eggs. Eggs were cheap, and for the moment still are, although don’t count on it lasting for long.

And instead of a steak, you could always cook a chicken. Chicken was cheap. Once  the Republican Hoover Administration had been banished for eternity to the Great American Hall of Shame that we call history, there actually  could be a chicken in almost every pot in America, just as Hoover promised. At least on the weekends. As long as Hoover wasn’t around to screw it up.

Recently, that situation has eroded. These days you can pay for just enough ground beef to make a hamburger what you used to pay for a quarter of a pound of imported, line-caught, artisinally-smoked Scottish salmon. Never mind what the salmon costs these days.

That increase in beef prices drove people to chicken in increasingly growing droves. Which in turn inflated the price of chicken. In my supermarket the other day, chicken breasts were selling for something like eight bucks a pound. And now it’s about to get worse.

The New York Times reports a bird flu epidemic in the midwest and west that’s infecting chickens, forcing farmers to slaughter and destroy them. The infections can spread fast. That’s because the chickens are crammed together by the thousands — actually  the hundreds of thousands — in giant Buchenwaldish poultry barns. For example, the Times story mentioned that one egg farm was disposing of “about 5.5 million hens housed in 26 metal barns.” 

Do the arithmetic. We’re talking about over 192,000 hens per barn. Little wonder the USDA says that if you have an outbreak on a farm, every last chicken must die and then be cremated, composted, or buried. You can have enough infected chickens on one farm to infect the planet.

So now it’s a pretty good bet that the price of every kind of animal protein will move up a notch. The price of Scottish smoked salmon will cost what caviar used to cost. Steak will cost like Scottish smoked salmon. Chicken will cost like steak. 

That’s no skin off the noses of the one percent. If you’re earning a couple-a million bucks a year, so you pay 30 bucks extra for a sirloin steak. What’s the big deal? And why are all those middle class and working folks whining again?

As for the rest of us? Well, you remember what Marie Antoinette said. Or what she might have said, had she been living today.

“Let them eat cockroaches.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hate to spoil your vacation but all that water we've been pumping up from the Midwest to grow all that corn is half gone. And according to Harper's Magazine, that water supply doesn't get replenished by Midwestern rain. Takes something like ten or one hundred thousand years to replenish it. Somehow I got the number confused by a factor of ten or more but in my lifetime ten thousand or one hundred thousand won't matter. But in another fifty years you won't be getting any Monsanto corn out there because kaput! The water will be gone. So if you hear things about agriculture changing, you better believe it. The move back to small farms is already underway. Just don't wish for Victory gardens. Pray they'll call them living right gardens next go round. Because chicken and beef are just the start. Now where's that garden tiller? Oh, I forgot, they're drilling for natural gas around these parts. Better get ready to move. And hope Monsanto hasn't sucked it all up everywhere.
We're gonna need that water. Sugar cane sounds about right to me. Where's Fidel when we need him?