Chicken is a bigger problem than beef when it comes to the environmental impact of the British diet, according to new claims from WWF.

Earlier this week, WWF Germany published a report on diet and sustainability, which found the country’s consumption of pork was the biggest driver of environmental degradation.

But in the UK, the biggest problem was chicken, said Duncan Williamson, food policy manager at WWF UK. He added meat in general was the primary cause of environmental problems arising from UK diets, with chicken the biggest villain of all.

“A lot of people have focused on beef as the problem, but our studies suggest people are eating the right amount of red meat,” he said. “What we are increasingly recognising is that people are eating more and more chicken, which is usually intensively reared and requires high inputs such as water and feed, which have environmental consequences.”

He added chicken had traditionally been portrayed as the “virtuous meat”, but industrially reared birds were not necessarily a healthy choice. “Intensively reared chickens contain more fat and have inputs such as antibiotics, which have been proven to cause problems for human health,” he said.

Williamson stressed WWF was not advising people to stop eating chicken altogether, but to reduce their consumption. “Fifty years ago we ate about 400% less chicken per person per year than we do now. We are just eating too much.”

A spokesman for the British Poultry Council said studies had shown chicken production had a low environmental impact compared with other meats in terms of energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.

He added “strict withdrawal periods” ensured no antibiotics were present in chickens at time of slaughter.