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The Chicken of Tomorrow

Before WWII, most of the chicken eaten by Americans was a by-product of egg production - extra cockerels were butchered, and laying hens past their prime were stewed or made into soup. During the war, red meat was scarce, and the retail market for chicken meat grew. Fried, roasted, broiled - Americans developed a taste for chicken, and the broiler industry was born.

In the late 1940’s, the A&P grocery chain sponsored a series of contests to develop “The Chicken of Tomorrow,” culminating in the national finals held at the University of Arkansas in 1951. A wax model was developed, and held up as the ideal towards which breeders should strive - a carcass with a broad breast, plump thighs, large drumsticks. Breeders worked to develop a bird that would grow quickly, and convert feed to flesh as efficiently as possible.

The result of these efforts is the Chicken of Today, the modern Cornish-Rock hybrid, which balloons from hatching to market-size in just 6-8 weeks. Such intensive and narrowly-focused genetic selection is, of course, inherently risky; the industrial broiler's incredible rate of growth is associated with impaired mobility, cardiac disease, and a compromised immune system.

Industrial broiler production