Rome, Italy
Thomson Reuters Foundation

With about nine billion birds slaughtered every year, the United States eats more chicken than any other country, and its growing consumption of the meat is harming the environment.

Now former chef Matthew Wadiak is hoping to make raising chickens more environmentally friendly, with a new breed of "carbon-friendly" birds that live off food grown locally and sustainably.

Matthew Wadiak

Cooks Venture CEO Matthew Wadiak with the company's heirloom chickens at their 800 acre farm in Arkanasas, US. PICTURE: Cooks Venture.

Chicken is seen as a more environmentally responsible choice than other meats because it accounts for just eight per cent of the planet-heating greenhouse gas emissions from the livestock sector.

But Wadiak believes it could be much greener. Nearly 80 per cent of the emissions from farming chickens come from growing their feed, made from soybeans and other crops associated with deforestation, something he wants to change.

"There's been a lot of studies to show that we can, in theory, affect climate change on a global scale by creating better systems," said Wadiak, whose chickens went on sale in April and will soon be available across the United States.

"Grow the food where your animals are and do it in a way that is restorative to the soil, increase drought resistance and reduce propensity for desertification," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Wadiak and his team are now working with dozens of farmers to convert more than 2,000 hectares of farmland into "regenerative agriculture" - the kind that improves soil health and increases its ability to store carbon.

"Any time you're growing feed crops or crops in general in a regenerative system, you're mitigating climate change because we are sequestering carbon, plain and simple," said Wadiak.

His company Cooks Venture recently received $US12 million in funding and is looking to expand into breeding pigs and cattle, even as calls to cut meat consumption for environmental reasons grow louder.

"I'm all for people eating less meat, but it would be naive to think that people are going to stop eating it," said Wadiak.

Chicken is the world's most popular meat, with 66.5 million slaughtered in 2017, according to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization, and demand for the meat is rising globally.

Chicken and turkey overtook pork and beef as Americans' favourite meat in 2015 for the first time since 1960, and forecasts for 2019 and 2020 show the trend continuing.

Wadiak, whose chickens could cost twice as much as non-organic birds, hopes to produce a few hundred thousand chickens per week by the end of this year, a tiny portion of the increasing number of chickens consumed by American diners.