Poultry Meat From Avian Species

The United States and China are the world leaders in meat animal production. The United States is the world's largest producer of beef, veal, broilers, and turkeys and is the second-largest producer of table eggs and pork. China is the world's largest producer of table eggs, swine, lamb and mutton, and horses, the second-largest in broilers, and third in beef and veal. None of that existed when Columbus first came to America (with the exception of possible domestication of turkeys in Mexico). Wild animals and birds were in abundance, and hunting easily supplied all the meat needs of the local inhabitants, and in future years a substantial part of the settlers' needs.

In his second voyage in 1493, Columbus brought to the West Indies livestock, which included chickens. In 1519 Cortez brought cattle and sheep to Mexico and brought turkeys back with him to Spain. De Soto brought horses and hogs to Florida in 1539, and later in the century missionaries brought these livestock to the Pacific Coast of North America. In the seventeenth century European settlers brought livestock and poultry to the United States. At that time pork was the main traditional meat source, partly because it could be well preserved without refrigeration. Chickens were used mostly for eggs and cockfights and less for meat. In 1641 the first meat-packing plant to produce salt pork was opened in Springfield, Massachusetts, by William Pynchon. Chickens were raised in the majority of households in small numbers. A hen laid about 60 eggs per year, mainly in the spring. Chickens provided the household with meat and eggs, and the surplus was bartered or sold in open markets.

In 1998 there were almost 9 billion meat-producing farm animals commercially raised on U.S. farms (Table 1). Many other animals were grown as specialty items for food, sport, and pleasure, mostly in low volume. Surprisingly, about 98% of all farm animals are birds. However, by amount of meat produced (in tons) and by revenue (in dollars), beef is still king, not only in the United States but also worldwide. Yet more people eat lamb, mutton, and sheep than any other animal flesh. The change of consumer preferences in meat consumption started slowly in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century and accelerated rapidly toward its end. The doubling of the American population since World War II from 132.1 million in 1940 to 269 million in 1998 strongly fueled the demand for poultry, resulting in the explosive growth in poultry production, meat consumption, and the emergence of a highly efficient vertically integrated poultry industry. Dramatic changes in lifestyle further increased the demand for poultry as a low-fat, convenient food. The majority of fat in poultry is deposited under the skin. Therefore substan-

Table 1. Major Meat-Producing Farm Animals On U.S. Farms (1998)

Broilers and roasters"








Beef and dairy cattle






Sheep and lamb






Source: United States Department of Agriculture.

"Life span of a broiler is 6 weeks and of a roaster is 10 weeks.

"1996 USDA figures.

cMost horsemeat is exported.

Source: United States Department of Agriculture.

"Life span of a broiler is 6 weeks and of a roaster is 10 weeks.

"1996 USDA figures.

cMost horsemeat is exported.

tial fat reduction, sometimes to 2%, can easily be achieved through skin removal.

Chicken and turkey consumption more than tripled during the twentieth century, and today chicken is the most-consumed meat when calculated on retail weight (Table 2). Beef and pork subsequently declined, mainly during the 1980s and early 1990s. Yet total red meat (beef, pork, veal, lamb, and mutton) consumed by Americans in 1997 was 52.7% of all meats, compared to poultry (broilers, roasters, turkeys, ducks, and geese) at 40.6% and fish at 6.7%. Another method to calculate meat consumption proposed by the beef industry and now in use is on a boneless basis. According to that method, poultry lost out, as the majority of its retail parts contain significant amounts of bone (Table 2). However, the gap is closing again as 80 lb of broilers and 64 lb of beef per American were consumed in 1998.

The worldwide picture is similar to that in the United States. Since the early 1960s, the number of chickens slaughtered worldwide rose about sixfold (from 6.5 billion in 1961 to 39 billion in 1997). Increased production of turkeys, ducks, and geese was also phenomenal but confined to certain world regions such as China, the Pacific Rim, and Europe. Strong world population growth (4.8 billion in 1985, 5.7 billion in 1995, 6.0 billion in 1999) and the doubling of per capita annual income even in developing countries (to $600 in 1996) fueled this growth, as a large portion of this income in developing countries and a smaller proportion in developed countries was spent to buy more meat. In the United States total meat consumption has increased by 14 lbs per capita since 1970.

Poultry has numerous advantages over ruminants in intensive production:

1. A very low feed conversion range, between 1.75 and 3.0 lb of feed/1 lb of live weight

2. Short production period

3. Vertically integrated industry

4. Highly automated and fast processing lines

5. Small requirement for land

6. Low product price

As a result of these advantages, self-sufficiency in poultry production became a goal in many countries. However, intensive poultry production requires a large volume of grain and oil seeds that are not available in many countries

Table 2. Per Capita Consumption of Meat in the United States (1996)
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