TIME Agriculture

Here’s Why You’re Paying More for Chicken

Cockerel, UK
Universal Images Group—UIG via Getty Images

Modified genes in a key rooster breed has reduced the birds’ fertility

Chicken prices in the United States are reportedly on the rise after a genetic defect caused rooster fertility problems at a time when high prices on other meats were already increasing demand for poultry products.

The standard Ross male, a key rooster breed responsible for fathering up to 25 percent of the chickens raised for slaughter in the U.S., has seen reduced fertility due to a change in its genes, Reuters reports. Poultry producers routinely modify chicken genes to improve yield. As a result, the price of chicken breasts is up about 50 cents per pound and prices in Georgia, a key chicken market, have hit record highs.

Aviagen Group, the world’s largest chicken breeder, discovered the glitch after ruling out other possible explanations for a roughly 2% increase in hatch failure of eggs fertilized by the breed, Reuters reports. Scientists from the company say the genetic tweak made the roosters “very sensitive” to overfeeding.

“We fed him too much. He got fat. When he got big, he did not breed as much as he was intended to,” said Mike Cockrell, chief financial officer for the major chicken producer Sanderson, one of Aviagen’s biggest customers.

The chicken shortage resulting from reduced rooster fertility comes at a time when elevated prices for pork and beef have been increasing demand for chicken as a meat alternative.

[Reuters]

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