Earlier this month, ABARES (the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences) released its annual update on current and forecast future production and consumption of Australian agricultural products, including meats. Its statistics show that Australians are forecast to consume a whopping 46.2 kg of chicken meat, per person, over 2015-16, not only cementing chicken’s position as Australian consumers’ favourite meat, but also making us one of the largest consumers of chicken meat in the world!
Those of us who were around in the 1960s and 1970s may well be asking the question: How did this come about? How did chicken go from being an occasional treat, consumed only on special occasions or at best as the odd Sunday roast lunch, to today eating the equivalent of almost a full kilo of chicken meat each and every week? I’ll try to answer these questions here:
How much has chicken meat production and consumption grown over the past 40 – 50 years?
Back in 1966 (half a century ago) Australians consumed just 7kg of chicken meat each. As mentioned above, it’s expected that per capita consumption of chicken meat will reach 46.2kg in 2015-16. Over the same period, consumption of beef, and of lamb in particular, has declined.
Why the massive growth in consumption of chicken meat?
Well, obviously, because it’s such a great product! But how did Australians get to realise what a great product it is? Simple – because they could afford to eat more of it.
In real terms, chicken meat has become more and more affordable over time – there has been no increase in the real cost of chicken meat over the past 50 years. In fact, chicken has never been more affordable than it is at the moment.
And how has this been possible? The chicken industry has been able to deliver a more affordable product because of significant improvements it has made in the efficiency with which chicken meat is produced, and overall improvements in productivity. These gains have been passed on to consumers by way of reduced prices.
A lot of research has contributed to these advancements in efficiency and productivity (providing better feeding practices and bird nutrition, better housing and husbandry, improved flock health), but they also reflect advancements in the genetics of the birds that are used both here and around the world, and the fact that chickens are inherently more efficient at converting feed into meat than other livestock species. Modern meat chickens have been bred for a range of criteria, including for their feed conversion efficiency. This has meant that the most significant cost in producing a meat chicken i.e. feed, can be reduced, for the same amount of meat produced.
Alongside this increase in affordability, the range of products available has increased, almost exponentially. The nutritional benefits of chicken in the diet have also been better recognized (see my earlier blog on this at http://www.chicken.org.au/chookchat/how-nutritious-is-chicken). So it’s easy to see how chicken meat consumption has increased so much over the past 50 years and how chicken meat has become Australia’s favourite meat.
Can consumption grow any higher?
This is a question that we get asked all the time – is there really any room for further growth in chicken consumption? The answer is a resounding “yes”.
With more people now understanding that many of the myths perpetuated over the years about chicken meat (such as that chickens are fed hormones, or that chickens are kept in cages – both completely untrue – see my previous blogs at http://www.chicken.org.au/chookchat/the-hormone-myth and http://www.chicken.org.au/chookchat/meat-chickens-and-cages ) many previous barriers to consumption are actually being lifted, and consumers are feeling better and better about eating chicken. With the current price differentials between chicken meat and other meats in Australia, consumption of chicken meat is certain to climb even higher.
To check out the full ABARES report, and see what it says about the future for chicken meat production and consumption, go to http://www.agriculture.gov.au/abares/publications/display?url=http://188.8.131.52/anrdl/DAFFService/display.php?fid=pb_agcomd9abcc20160301_cQe9T.xml