Caterers are being urged to consider the environmental impact of the chicken they source after poultry overtook the sale of red meat in the UK.
According to a report from animal welfare group Eating Better, 95% of the 850 million chickens reared for meat in the UK each year are grown in intensive indoor units.
Its ‘We need to talk about chicken' report claims that present-day production methods could mean there are hidden costs to chicken consumption.
The report claims that there are health risks to humans, that chicken suffering is on the increase due to high demand, and that modern production methods can lead to a higher carbon footprint as well causing local pollution.
It questioned the assertion that replacing beef and lamb with chicken in diets could reduce greenhouse gas emissions and be better for the planet, since an escalation in chicken farming may counteract any such benefits.
Beef and pork consumption, Eating Better claimed, has remained at the same levels since 1990, but chicken consumption has grown by 70%. In 2017 poultry overtook meat sales for the first time, with 95% of this chicken reared in intensive indoor units.
Martin Lines, chair of the Nature Friendly Farming Network, said: "As we see the public being encouraged to move from red meat to white meat, we must look closely at the environmental and climate footprint of the animal feed inputs from around the world."
Eating Better also claimed that the perceived nutritional benefits of eating chicken have been diminished through 70 years of genetic selection, while the soy used in feed has been linked to deforestation in South America.
Eating Better's executive director Simon Billing said: "Now feels like a crossroads for UK agriculture alongside the climate and biodiversity crises. We need to call out that further growth of chicken production is not a health or sustainability solution. There is a need to support nature-friendly farming, with less and better meat, that restores our soils, regenerates nature and provides good rural jobs."
The organisation is campaigning for a 50% reduction in all meat and dairy consumption by 2030 and for the government to meet its net zero target of zero greenhouse emissions by 2050.
It has recommended a series of government-led agricultural policy that incentivises farmers to increase production of vegetables, wholegrains, nuts, seeds, fruit and pulses and a transition to improved methods of livestock farming that are less intense, deliver smaller amounts and are of higher quality.