Some Chicken Sold In The US Is Green – Here’s Why

Green chicken is more common than you think


4 Minutes Read

Costco rotisserie chicken A customer bought a Costco rotisserie chicken on to find it was green inside - Media Credit: Andriy Blokhin / Alamy Stock Photo

Costco customers have been appalled to find that some of the store’s rotisserie chicken is green inside.

A Reddit user posted a picture of the green chicken to the website and asked if it was normal. Many replies correctly identified the discolored meat as “green muscle disease.”

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Not many people would find green chicken meat an appetizing prospect – though it poses no safety hazard according to the US Department of Agriculture. But it signifies something even more unsavory about the mass production of chicken meat on factory farms.

What is green muscle disease?

Green muscle disease is the common name for a condition called ischemic myopathy or deep pectoral myopathy. It results from restricted blood supply to the flight muscles in chickens and turkeys.

Blood flow to the area becomes restricted when birds flap their wings a lot and the muscle gains more mass than the birds’ bodies can accommodate. The pressure limits or cuts off the blood supply, leading to the death of the muscle tissue.

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Several factors are thought to contribute to farmed birds flapping their wings a lot. These include stressful conditions such as birds being caught to be loaded onto trucks for slaughter and sudden changes in light conditions in barns. The withdrawal of feed that happens in the days before slaughter is another possible contributor.

Factory farms are also inherently stressful places for chickens and other farmed birds. Thousands of them are housed together in barns, with very little space per bird. There is little to engage them and they can be become bored and frustrated. While they are growing to slaughter weight, the barn floor will become covered in feces and urine, as they are only cleaned between flocks. 

Large-growing breeds

Fast-growing chickens on a factory farm
Molly Condit / Sinergia Animal / We Animals Media Chickens are bred to be heavier and grow faster

Usually, green meat will be removed from the bird’s body during processing, but sometimes it will reach supermarket shelves in whole carcasses. Green muscle disease isn’t new, but the poultry industry says it is occurring more frequently. The main reason is that chickens are being bred for heavier body weights. 

“Green chicken flesh is the result of industrial breeding practices that cause chickens to grow so unnaturally large so quickly that there’s inadequate blood flow to their chest,” PETA’s Vice President of Programmes Elisa Allen told Plant Based News.

Modern broiler chickens not only grow three times faster than they did fifty years ago, they can also weigh up to four times as much. In the US, around 70 percent of chicken meat comes from larger birds weighing more than 2.7kg. 

Pressures on chicken bodies from selective breeding means that green muscle disease is not the only muscle myopathy from which they can suffer. Others include “woody breast,” where the breast muscles harden, and “spaghetti chicken,” where difficulty breathing deprives muscles tissue of oxygen and causes the fibers to separate. 

Cheap chicken

Costco’s rotisserie chicken costs only $4.99, a price that has not changed since 2009. The chickens are also typically a pound heavier than rotisserie chicken found at other supermarkets. In 2022, Costco sold 117 million – a 10 percent increase on the year before.

It’s only possible for Costco to sell so many chickens so cheaply because of the way ways in which the chickens are farmed. Unusually, Costco owns the farms and processing plants that produce its chicken. In 2020, an undercover investigation by Mercy For Animals revealed fast-growing Costco chickens struggling to walk and suffering from ammonia burns due to lying in their own waste. The footage also captured piles of rotting dead birds.

Costco later said it would look into giving birds more space and that it would look into breeding chickens to have fewer welfare problems. But even if these changes came into effect, the chickens would still live short, difficult lives before being slaughtered and sold at the lowest cost possible.

“PETA asks consumers to reflect on the fact that eating chicken means eating the flesh of a disabled, diseased – and now dead – bird and urges them to opt instead for delicious vegan chicken that’s free from cruelty as well as nasty surprises,” said Allen.

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