Examining revenue growth at chicken-producing companies such as Tyson Foods and Sanderson Farms shows a surge in chicken consumption over the last several years. Some of this has to do with the consumer shift to healthier eating and alternative low-carb lifestyles that focus on protein consumption as well as rising demand associated with our New Global Middle-class investing theme. In a bid to meet demand, chicken producers have sought solutions to grow more birds and make them bigger to render more meat, but there have been abnormalities about these fast-growing birds that are prompting questions. When we hear abnormalities and problems when it comes to the food we eat, we see it as a prompt for consumers to knowingly look for foods that are in line with our Cleaner Living investment theme. We are after all what we eat.
Chicken companies spent decades breeding birds to grow rapidly and develop large breast muscles. Now the industry is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to deal with the consequences ranging from squishy fillets known as “spaghetti meat,” because they pull apart easily, to leathery ones known as “woody breast.”
The abnormalities pose no food safety risk, researchers and industry officials say. They are suspected side effects of genetic selection that now allows meat companies to raise a 6.3-pound bird in 47 days, roughly twice as fast as 50 years ago, according to the National Chicken Council.
Researchers and breeders are still trying to pin down the exact cause of problems, a Tyson spokesman said. “While there are some factors linked to the occurrence—including bird weight, feed ingredients and the time of year the bird is grown—even a combination of these factors will not necessarily produce the same issues consistently,” he said.
That efficiency drive has helped U.S. meat giants such as Tyson Foods., Pilgrim’s Pride Corp, Perdue Farms Inc. and Sanderson Farms Inc. produce a record 42 billion pounds of chicken nuggets, tenders and other products in 2018. Now, it’s adding an estimated $200 million or more in annual industry expenses to identify and divert breast fillets that are too tough, too squishy or too striped with bands of white tissue to sell in restaurants or grocery stores, according to researchers at the University of Arkansas.
“There is proof that these abnormalities are associated with fast-growing birds,” said Dr. Massimiliano Petracci, a professor at the University of Bologna in Italy, who leads a team of researchers investigating the chicken breast problems in breeds used in commercial farms.