German research and consulting firm HFFA Research GmbH Tuesday released a research paper on the economic and environmental effects of poultry meat production in Germany and the European Union.

The study analyzed the benefits of modern poultry production practices by comparing them to commonly suggested alternatives: so-called “slow-growth” and organic poultry production. It concluded that transitioning either Germany or the EU’s poultry production to these alternatives would increase production costs, decrease agricultural incomes, incentivize the expansion of global cropland usage, decrease biodiversity and increase water usage.

The paper, titled “Societal Benefits of Modern Poultry Meat Production in Germany and the EU: An Economic and Environmental Analysis,” projected the effects on each of these key areas concerning poultry production. Slow-growth production would increase production costs between 25 and 30 percent, decrease agricultural incomes by €400 million in Germany (€3 billion in the EU), expand global cropland usage by 173,000 acres in Germany (1.1 million acres in the EU), decrease biodiversity by 89,000 acres in Germany (551,000 acres in the EU) and increase water usage by 750 million m3 in Germany (5.3 billion m3 in the EU). The numbers for organic production are between 200 and 500 percent worse than slow-growth.

Since 2000 agricultural prices have tended to rise. Global demand for meat has outpaced supply growth, driven by population growth and rise in per capita consumption of “goods of the bio-economy,” according to the paper’s conclusion, including exploding demand growth for poultry in the last two decades, predominantly in developing and newly industrializing nations. Growing demand can be addressed by expanding agricultural acreage, yield or both. Worldwide agricultural acreage is generally decreasing, therefore, the study reasoned, yield must be increased.

In order to meet the growing global demand, the study asked, what must be given up in replacing modern, highly productive poultry meat production with alternatives such as slow-growth?

“The climate cost of the alternative scenarios,” the study concluded, “would be as large as income loss in agriculture and its upstream and downstream industries. There also would be a negative impact on world food security.”

“In conclusion, the value to society of modern poultry meat production is very high both in Germany and the EU when compared to [slow-growth] or [organic] production. Moving to [either alternative] would result in substantial income losses for poultry meat producers as well as for upstream and downstream industry.”

Studies on the benefits of modern crop production practices have been done, but “no comprehensive attempts have been made to assess such social benefits of modern livestock production” before HFFA’s. “Productive technologies in both crop and livestock production are being criticized. However, the critique is all too often based on subjective perceptions rather than scientific facts.”