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The Humongous Fungus Among Us Issue

The Future of Chickens

Chickens will have to adapt to the changing climate in all sorts of ways.

As the world heats up, humans will have to adapt to the changing climate in all sorts of ways—and so will our chickens. Geneticist Carl Schmidt says everyone's favorite fowl will be at risk of dying off from the massive heat waves we can expect in the future, especially in chicken-rich areas like the East Coast of the United States.

Schmidt, whose research is funded by the US Department of Agriculture, is trying to build a better naked-neck chicken, a breed that's ugly but more resistant to heat. Currently, he told me, "you can't grow the naked-neck chicken to the size that modern commercial broilers can be grown. If you want to have the productivity in 2050 to feed 9 billion people, you have to identify the genes that convert heat resilience and then, through breeding, bring them up to the size of a modern-day meat bird."

Vegetarians are against any research that imagines a future full of meat eaters, Schmidt said, and they do have a point about the energy cost involved in raising animals in order to kill and eat them. "It would be much simpler if the human population didn't eat meat," he said. "But you are not going to get the world to stop eating meat unless you make it super expensive—which is why I can't understand the vegan / vegetarian perspective."