Written Evidence submitted by The British Poultry Council (FS0097)

 

BPC-logo-FULL-White.pngBPC-logo-FULL-White.pngWhy poultry meat is vital to UK Food Security

 

The British poultry meat industry is at the core of feeding the nation. A billion birds are reared every year, providing half the meat the country eats to world class standards in food safety and welfare. We do this as an unsubsidised sector that directly employs over 34,000 people. The industry contributes £2 billion GVA to the UK economy and generates £1.5 billion in tax revenue to the exchequer.

 

The British Poultry Council is the trade association for producers of poultry meat from chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese, addressing issues on all parts of the production chain: breeding, hatching, growing, and processing. Representing over 85% of UK producers, we are the voice of the British poultry meat sector.

 

Setting the foundations for British food security: What are the stakes?

 

1.         In this current cost-of-living crisis, with a 16.9% rise in food inflation, British Poultry Council members are committed to continue providing affordable, safe and nutritious food for all the UK. Unfortunately, domestic and international challenges have created a difficult operating environment for them to do this. Like others in the agricultural sector, our producers are facing increased costs of production (circa 18% and growing) that is threatening their ability to supply food for the UK.

2.         Unprecedented challenges, like Avian Influenza (AI), have only worsened pre-existing business continuity challenges, including labour shortages and an unfair playing field with trade. Naturally, this environment leads to a decrease in domestic production and an increase of potentially lower quality and cheaper imports, which further undermines our members and ultimately UK food security.

3.         This is a situation we are already contending with; total production of all poultry meat in the UK fell by 51,000 tonnes in 2022, amounting to a decline of 2.6%. The industry is edging towards the danger of being forced into the position where egg producers were recently, resulting in shortages of poultry meat on the supermarket shelves.

4.         As we can see with the current shortage of fresh produce available to UK consumers, there is more to be done in supporting domestic food security and providing access to the necessities required for life. 

 

Avian Influenza: An overwhelming challenge to accessing healthy and nutritious food

5.         The most overwhelming challenge for the British poultry meat industry is the current outbreak of AI. AI has only exacerbated the numerous other burdens already facing the industry and those left behind from Covid-19 and Brexit, including the increased cost of production, energy and feed prices, and labour shortages. As a result, existing disease contingency plans and their resources have been exposed as no longer fit for purpose.

6.         AI has placed further burdens on supply chains already strained by the effects of Covid-19 and the lack of an SPS agreement with the EU. The pandemic reinforced the value and purpose of food and demonstrated the cruciality of resilience in production. Despite these challenges, poultry meat’s integrated and robust supply chain has kept food on every table. This is at risk should additional burdens, natural or otherwise, continue to chip away at the industry’s viability.

    1. For example, a lack of an SPS agreement with the EU, the industry’s largest and most important trading partner, has led to unreciprocated controls on AI and costly burdens surrounding certification required for trade. Without an SPS agreement restrictions and additional cost burdens are forced upon UK producers, which prevents British businesses from keeping food moving. We already know some of the consequences of this: across all producers of products of animal origin (POAO) certification costs rose by £50 million. On the contrary, the EU has paid £0 in costs as it enjoys tariff free exporting into the UK. The

lack of a level playing field with imports is putting British businesses at a commercial disadvantage and negatively impacting their supply chain resilience.

7.         We are grateful for the work of the Animal Plant and Health Agency (APHA) and recognise the inadequate resources they are provided with to carry out vital steps in managing AI. Resource pressures in Government and the APHA, including a severe shortage of APHA vets, has meant that delays in critical steps have been encountered, including agreement on the cleansing and disinfection requirements to allow premises to be re-stocked. In addition, there are huge delays in lifting AI control zones, which is stopping UK businesses from exporting.

8.         The UK poultry industry believes vaccination – if coherently applied to avoid trade interruption – is a long-term solution for living with avian influenza. Whilst the Government’s AI Vaccination Task Force is being established, we require continued commitment and political will to develop a vaccine.

The current environment: UK business uncertainty

 

9.         AI and its consequences of diminishing business viability could be better managed if it was an individual issue. However, as illustrated above, the worst outbreak on record is occurring amongst the backdrop of the cost-of-living crisis, rising inflation, and other numerous issues, which have collectively worked together to expose the UK’s food frameworks to more instability. This has consequently led us to the present situation.

10.     This is a disastrous time to be a poultry producer in the UK. With rising input costs and inflation, our producers are struggling to make any market returns. These increasing costs should be reflected in the price paid to the producer and the recouped costs seen by retailers.

11.     Poultry meat struggles to remain one of the most affordable proteins. Prices do not reflect the true cost of production and therefore threaten consumer accessibility. To ensure the UK industry is viable, the market needs to return the cost of production. Government could help producers better manage and mitigate input increases, such as energy.

12.     Government should always strive to bolster domestic production as part of a circular economy, but it must equally acknowledge that trade will always play a valuable role in our supply chain. We are a market driven industry and strive for carcass balance and avoiding food waste by exporting.   

13.     This cannot come at the cost of undermining UK producers. Price conscious shoppers and retailers looking for the best prices will turn to the EU to access cheaper poultry meat, which face no import controls. This again leads stems from issues with the unfair trading playing field. Trading opportunities need to better serve, not replace, domestic production.

14.     There is the opportunity for the Government to help increase the UK’s self-sufficiency with poultry meat. The UK is currently 65% self-sufficient in poultry meat production, however a return to profitable market conditions and Government investment in re-building business viability and domestic demand will support business productivity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Food Strategy: Opportunities for change

 

15.     Reflecting on the National Food Strategy and active industry engagement with Government provides the opportunity to put in place tools required for the UK to be food secure. For this to happen, our members require a fair system that backs British food producers. We want to work with Government to deliver on its duty ensure everyone in the UK has sufficient access to nutritious food.    

16.     A British-food-first approach puts British food at the core of our national food strategy. This drives fairness, regulatory excellence, and allows our Government to set the bar on nutritional, welfare, and environmental ambitions.

17.     By prioritising the values of British production and championing British food, Government can confidently say that it supports its communities, trusts its producers and is confident in the standards to which they operate to. To unashamedly promote British food in public services means Government takes seriously investing in local economies and communities and supporting a highly productive, lower impact supply chain.

18.     To continue putting food on every table, poultry businesses are looking to Government for certainty, not additional burden. The industry wants to work with Government to get the right strategies in place to allow us to continue feeding the nation with low impact, affordable and nutritious food. Collaboration must set the precedent, where healthy and profitable domestic production is necessary for food security. We would like to see Government investments in food and farming infrastructures and innovation to bolster the heart of British poultry and secure it for the future.

    1. The success of the poultry visa scheme in 2021, leading to the expansion of SAWS to include poultry, and changes to marketing regulations with turkeys last Christmas, is proof that when Government prioritises food production by engaging with industry to protect the integrity of supply chains, the right outcomes are achieved: quality food for all. We hope to see the same results with the recently formed Government led AI Vaccination Task Force.

19.     Government must continue this positively engagement with industry to build a system that works for food production, not against it, to maintain the robustness of supply chains. We have the means to transform the combination of problems we face into an opportunity for UK food security that creates good jobs, allows viable businesses to flourish and create a greener food sector.