Written evidence submitted by Aviagen Group (MAAB0043)
- Aviagen Group welcomes this opportunity to respond to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee’s inquiry into moving animals across borders.
- Aviagen is a leading global poultry breeding company, developing pedigree lines for the production of broiler chickens and turkeys principally under the Ross, Arbor Acres, Indian River, Rowan Range, B.U.T. Nicholas Turkeys and Hockenhull Turkeys brands. Aviagen implements natural selection criteria that make commercial poultry production environmentally and socially responsible and economically beneficial to producers, while at the same time promoting bird performance, health and welfare. Over half of all chickens and turkeys consumed globally are from Aviagen breeders.
- Our UK operations, which include our global R&D and development centre in Edinburgh supports over 1,100 UK based staff and exceeds an annual turnover of £200m. Our UK hatcheries, from where our chicks and poults are distributed globally, are based in Stratford-upon-Avon, Rugby and Grantham.
- Aviagen Group maintains pedigree breeding programmes for both meat chickens and turkeys in GB that supply higher generation day old birds of either Great Grandparent, Grandparent or Parent generation to over 30 countries which is a key reason GB is a globally recognised hub for poultry breeding. The export of such important genetic stock from GB contributes significantly to improved global food security, animal health and welfare and sustainable food production.
- We welcome the committee’s focus on moving animals across borders. Since the UK decided to leave the European Union’s Single Market and Customs Union, Aviagen, like many agri-food businesses has been faced with considerable uncertainty as the Withdrawal Agreement and our legal exit was negotiated. As an exporter of live animals into the EU and elsewhere, maintaining animal welfare was our principle concern during this period as we awaited last-minute third country listed recognition by the EU and crossing uncertainty at Dover. This was also coupled with the significant change in processes for Export Health Certificates and the development of new IT systems for importing and exporting live animals.
- This uncertainty for the UK’s poultry breeding sector has been exacerbated by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs decision to consult on ‘improving animal welfare in transport’ consultation so soon after the end of the transition period. While live poultry exports are not included in the proposed ban, other measures contained within the consultation on journey times for day-old poultry could have serious negatives consequences for the poultry breeding sector. Proposals contained in the consultation to limit journey times of day-old poultry to 21 or 24 hours do not reflect the current science on how best to protect animal welfare during transport. These areas are not covered by the Committee’s questions under live animal exports and we would value them being raised as part of the inquiry. The consequences of these proposals being adopted would force Aviagen to re-locate our operations outside of the UK.
Q. Does the UK have sufficient resources and capacity to certify, record and inspect animal movements across its borders?
- During the transition period, Aviagen, like other businesses exporting live animal across borders, were concerned at the relative lack of preparedness, clarity of detail and resources made by the UK government in the run up to the end of the transition period to supporting exporting businesses.
- We note that the UK government has announced a 6-month extension to the introduction of full border controls on goods coming in from the EU until 1st January 2022 due to impacts of the pandemic on business preparedness.
- Exporting into the EU has also been hampered by a lack of clarity on Border Control Posts in mainland Europe and their ability to take certain livestock, forcing many businesses to find alternative trade routes into the EU.
Q. How effectively will the UK be able to conduct animal disease surveillance and respond to outbreaks?
- It is important that the UK maintains a sufficient resource of qualified veterinarians to maintain the current level of surveillance and outbreak response.
Q. What impact will the new UK-EU agreement have on moving animals across the Irish border and between GB and the EU/Northern Ireland?
- Despite the Northern Ireland protocol, shipment of day-old chicks and hatching eggs are subject to the same level of checks and EU procedures as exporting to other EU member states. This has added cost and complexities to supplying Northern Ireland due to various issues, such as veterinary checks, packaging and labelling requirements.
Q. How should the Government balance animal health and welfare alongside economic interests?
- The UK has some of the highest animal welfare standards anywhere in the world – we should strive, through science-based regulations to maintain this position and ensure we prioritise animal welfare as we strike new trade deals. However, government must balance animal health and welfare alongside economic interests – as in the case on journey times and climatic conditions in the consultation on ‘improving animal welfare in transport’ could see businesses like Aviagen forced to move its breeding programmes outside of the UK resulting in a significant loss of highly skilled jobs as well as forcing the UK to import this breeding stock, impacting its food security.
Live animal exports:
- We welcome this committee’s questions on live animal exports. Areas not explored in the Committee’s questions other than live animals for slaughter, are the government’s proposals to introduce maximum journey times in other species and tighten restrictions on movement if certain climatic conditions are not met. We provide an outline below on how this could significantly impact the UK’s poultry breeding sector. Our response to government is that it has misinterpreted the science on transport matters, specifically in the poultry sector.
Maximum journey times for day old poultry
- The consultation paper proposes maximum journey times of 21 or 24 hours for day old poultry. This is incompatible with our current trading commitments and operations. Aviagen in GB currently delivers day old breeding stock to over 30 countries around the globe with the journey time ranging from less than 12 hours to over 40 hours. One of the measures that gives an indication of bird welfare is the liveability on arrival and during the last year this was above 99.5% for journeys in excess of 24 hours confirming that it is the quality of the journey that is important rather than its duration for this type of genetic bird.
- If the current position of up to 72 hours (as long as feed and water is supplied after 24 hours) is maintained, then we see no need for exceptions to be made. In 2020 over 30 countries have been supplied with breeding stock that has hatched in the UK and the average liveability on arrival was above 99.6% for all journeys and 99.5% for journeys in excess of 24 hours.
- Under the current provisions breeding companies look to maximise the liveability and health of the day-old birds by ensuring their welfare needs are met. Transport is planned to maximise the comfort and minimize the risk of adverse conditions; to achieve this road transport is the preferred method but if this is not practical then where possible direct flights are used to ensure the best options for each journey. During all phases of the transport supplemental heating (if required) and ventilation are provided to ensure that the birds remain in their optimal conditions. In line with the requirements of Regulation (EC) 1/2005 any journey that is expected to take over 24 hours the birds are not only supplied with a hydration product prior to dispatch but sufficient product can be added to make it available for the duration of the journey if that is appropriate.
- There are important differences between mammals and avian species that has to be recognised which mean the movement of day-old poultry should be exempt. A key difference is as due to their yolk sac which means that they have a feed and water store that can be utilised during the first few days of life as can be seen in nature. During these first few days there will be some mortality as not every bird that hatches will be able to flourish regardless if they are transported or not (again as seen in nature). The objective is to always maximise the liveability by ensuring their welfare needs are met. Aviagen has provided Defra with robust evidence of excellent liveability in excess of 99.5% for journeys greater than 24 hours confirming that it is the quality of the journey that is important rather than its duration for this type of stock.
- We disagree with the consultation’s proposal to limit journeys where the temperature is outside the range of 5-25C. Day old poultry are always transported in temperature-controlled vehicles. The reason that temperature controlled vehicles are used for day old chicks is that the thermoregulatory systems in a day old chick and feather development are naïve compared to a mature broiler and other poultry. For this reason the environmental temperature has to be more precisely controlled in day old chicks. The vehicles used to transport day old poultry are specifically designed with dual systems to monitor the environmental conditions the birds are being held in and even in the event of a malfunction of one system conditions are maintained. There are telematics to keep transport managers in full contact with the vehicle, alarms are fitted to notify both the driver and the transport manager of any deviations from the expected conditions within the bird holding area.
- If journeys outside the range of 5-25C were prohibited we estimate that most poultry journeys (birds to slaughter, rear to lay, brood and move) in January and February would not be able to take place based on GB weather statistics. Furthermore, a significant percentage of the journeys could not take place in November, December, March and April because the night time/early morning temperature, when many of these journeys are made, is below 50C. It is difficult to be accurate but we estimate between 45% and 55% of journeys would be impacted between November and April. In the summer months of July and August up to 30% of journeys could be affected.
- We also disagree with the proposal to prevent day old poultry from being transported during Beaufort Wind Force 6 or above. Day old poultry that are leaving Great Britain not by air must make a ferry crossing to Ireland or to mainland Europe. At the time incubation starts the weather conditions on the day of hatch are not known. The vehicles used to transport the birds are specifically designed to monitor the environmental conditions the birds are being held in and will adjust the temperature to ensure the optimal conditions are maintained. During a ferry crossing the power for the vehicle temperature control and monitoring will be provided by the ferry rather than the vehicle itself. Day old poultry sit when they are in the box used for transport from the hatchery to farm and so we feel that such a requirement is not relevant for day old poultry transport.