Friday, 27 March 2015

a world without chickens?

In this week's New Scientist magazine (21/03/15) is an interesting article called 'A world without chickens'. There are 22 billion chickens in the world, three for every person. I have engaged in a thought experiment where I imagined what would happen if the 1 billion pigs in the world were to be killed by a virus. This article does the same thought experiment with chickens.

The scientist Olivier Hanotte says we would face "a starving world". He also says 'Pandemics and riots could ensue, unleashing a crisis of enormous importance'. The article mentioned street protests in Mexico, Egypt and Iran when eggs or chicken meat was in short supply.

Chickens eat vast quantitites of grain and soya. Animal feed consists of maize and soya, together with wheat and barley, and fish especially anchovy. They convert plant and fish protein into eggs and chicken meat which we can then eat. But they do it inefficiently, although they are more efficient than pigs and cattle.

If all the chickens died there would be vast quantities of maize and soya available for people to eat. Far from going hungry, there would be more food than we know what to do with. We could grow crops less intensively and stop overfishing. Maize and soya in the form of polenta and tofu, tempeh and miso will give us enough calories and protein. There are other grains and other pulses we could grow more of. There's an interesting chart in the article 'Henhouse to greenhouse' which shows that tofu and beans don't generate as much greenhouse gas as chicken or the meaty alternatives.

People don't need to eat as much protein as they think, and animal protein is always more expensive than plant protein. Plant protein from soya, yellow split peas or other pulses give people all the lysine and other amino acids that they require. We don't need alternative forms of animal protein, but carp or crayfish would seem the best alternatives. No need to consider insects.