Number of the Day

What Chickens Have to Do With Climate Change, by the Numbers

Startups are working to replace America’s favorite meat

Marker Editors
Published in
2 min readNov 19, 2020


Number of the Day — 360 million tons: How much greenhouse gas emissions the global poultry industry produces every year.
Photo illustration, source: Martin Harvey/Gallo Images/Getty Images Plus

360 million tons: That’s how much greenhouse gas emissions the global poultry industry produces every year, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, per Future Human.

The Future Human story by Andrew Zaleski centers on a startup that aims to produce plant-based alternatives to chicken on an industrial scale. While beef is notorious for its climate impacts, ranking first among foods for its greenhouse gas emissions (2.9 billion tons a year), the poultry industry’s emissions are not insignificant. And these direct greenhouse gas emissions are only a partial accounting of the industry’s environmental impact: The use of chicken excrement as fertilizer causes air pollution by sending nitrous oxide and ammonia into the atmosphere, and water pollution in the form of nitrogen runoff into waterways (6 million pounds of nitrogen pollution from poultry farms in Pennsylvania went into the Chesapeake Bay in 2018 alone).

Given that chicken is by far the most-consumed meat in the United States, accounting for more than a third of meat consumption in the country, a plant-based chicken substitute that gains popularity would do a lot to mitigate the environmental impacts of the poultry industry.

While startups like Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat, and Rebellyous have been developing and attempting to scale plant-based alternatives to meat, other players, like Mosa Meat and Memphis Meat have been working on a different kind of alternative to environmental and ethical challenges of the conventional meat industry: lab-grown, cell-based animal protein.

We’ve come a long way from Tofurky.

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