1. Eating beef is far more ethical than eating chicken.
1a) There's some (non-zero) probability that meat cows have net positive lives, while I don't think anybody I respect ever suggested that the current conditions of broiler chickens are potentially positive.
1b) Cows are way over 100x heavier than chickens, which means you need 2+ orders of magnitude more suffering/dead chickens to supply the same amount of calories from eating chickens as eating (potentially even net positive) cows.
1c) The environmental harms of different meat animals is far smaller than either the direct ethical costs or the financial costs. You can look into carbon offsetting for example.
2.You might think that you have no moral imperative to create net positive lives, only to avoid really bad cases of animal abuse. I assure you that really bad cases of animal abuse do in fact happen.
3. You might believe that chickens are not sentient and do not have morally relevant experiences. This is a complicated topic but I would argue that even if you only have a 10% chance of chickens having morally relevant experiences (and 90+% that they don't is far from justified given the state of current evidence), not eating chicken is still the right thing to do under most reasonable models of uncertainty.
4) You may believe that sentience is not a morally relevant criteria, and that there's a form of Human Exceptionalism where morality is defined to be about humans. Perhaps you only care about the environment for its effect on humans. If this is the case, I will be shocked if personal diet for ecology reasons is "the most ethical thing you can do" to preserve the future of humanity.
In general, while I applaud attempts to do moral reasoning in taboo tradeoffs, I find reasoning that ignores the highest number of beings suspect. (I feel the same way when economists debate the cost-effectiveness of immigration while entirely skipping the impact on immigrants).
I don't go on HN often, so apologies if I don't respond to comments too quickly. Good luck with thinking this through clearly! :)
Would it impact your moral calculus if we artificially retarded broiler chicken's intelligence?
1c) To me, the carbon and land use impacts dominate the direct ethical costs. With a ~1:4 carbon footprint ratio of chicken:beef, and taking into account my (1ab) opinion, that's enough to offset the individual mind count concern.
2) I value animal life conditions in a net utilitarian manner. Providing humans sustenance and pleasure in the form of edible protein is weighed against animal conditions.
3) What are the consequences of making an incorrect decision that cause you to weigh the 10% so heavily?
4) Including the qualifying "if you eat meat" phrase in my quote and the context of the comment thread (organic, chemical / drug use), I think my statement is pretty clear. To expand, "If you eat meat, the most ethical thing you can do is support a chicken producer who attempted to eliminate mass-dosing with antibiotics from their entire production chain."
You'd probably be interested in Peter Singer (see updated copies of Animal Liberation) and the debate between absolute, preference, and hedonistic varieties of utilitarianism.