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Image of live chicken feet

Until about 20 years ago, chicken feet had virtually no value in the USA.  They were usually discarded or ground up for animal feed.

Then someone discovered how much the Chinese love chicken feet. Your average Chinese will actually pay more for a chicken’s feet – which they call paws – than for the breasts.

image of raw chicken feet

Overnight, a vast new marketing opportunity was born.  Chicken feet go for pennies per pound in the USA.  The Chinese will buy them for 60-80 cents per pound.


It’s like clawed crack – so lucrative that when China banned US poultry imports at the height of the bird flu scare, Brazil, England, and various Middle Eastern countries jumped at the opportunity to fill the void.  Not to be outdone, Chinese entrepreneurs started shipping chicken feet  through third countries and then sneaking them into China.

Image of fried chicken feet

The USA now exports nearly 300,000 metric tons of chicken paws each year. Chicken paw sales to China are so profitable that without them American chicken companies would be charging you a lot more for the breasts, legs, and thighs.


So the next time you’re at the supermarket eyeing a package of $1.85/lb. split chicken breasts, take a moment to thank Chinese taste buds.


Freakonomics Podcast: Chicken Paws