Animals get sick and die, and the deaths of livestock often times is directly related to policy issues. For example, there is reason to surmise that the proliferation of African swine fever in 2019 that is still continuing today is directly related to US geopolitical aims against the Chinese, who rely on the meat to feed their people. Any meat, product, or other thing that a people rely on for sustenance can be weaponized or attacked.
Chicken is the most popular meat consumed in the US, and chicken flu pandemics that cause mass bird deaths are not uncommon. Right now, major restaurant and fast food companies are engaged in a ‘chicken war’ to get the best quality birds and are spending tens of million of dollars to achieve this.
The war between chicken companies Popeye’s and Chick-Fil-A – most recently in the news for various fights and arguments in Popeye’s drive-thru lines – carries with it another negative consequence: the two companies are using up the world’s supply of little chickens.
Both companies use little chickens because the size of the quarter pound breasts fits perfectly inside of a bun.
A shortage of the little chickens was the cause of Popeye’s having to halt their challenge to Chick-Fil-A last summer. The supply is going to be further put to the test as McDonald’s is now also entering the fray, testing fried chicken sandwiches in four U.S. cities. Wendy’s is also spending $30 million to “beef up” its chicken supply chain.
Scott Sechler, owner of poultry producer Bell & Evans, said: “Consumers don’t want tough and tasteless big chickens. There’s increasing consumer demand for smaller, premium-quality birds.”
McDonald’s and Wendy’s are now targeting the same success. In 2017, Wendy’s said it was cutting its average chicken size by 20%.
“We saw instant feedback from our customers, who told us our sandwiches across the entire chicken lineup were juicier and more tender,” said Liliana Esposito, chief communications officer for Wendy’s.
The demand has redlined production for suppliers.
Will Sawyer, an animal-protein economist at Colorado-based rural lender CoBank ACB said: “Whatever demand growth we might have on smaller breasts, there’s no new supply to meet that demand. Everyone wants a bite out of that market.” (source)
Given all of the heavy financial investments into the chicken industry, and that the success or failure of the restaurants depends on a steady amount of marketable birds, a ‘chicken illness’ could cause a market shock that would have major affects on not just the industry, but the economy, jobs, profits, and public sentiments, since Americans are known to be particular about their food.