Good morning ladies and gentlemen.
I would like to thank John for his kind words of introduction, and also the organisers and sponsors of Poultry meat 2014 for inviting me here today.
I have been in the poultry industry for less than 18 months. In that short time I have met many people working in poultry from small farmers to the owners and directors of some of the industry’s biggest businesses. They all have one factor in common. They are passionately committed to producing the best food that they can for the people of Britain.
Given that I have been in the poultry meat industry for a relatively short space of time, I am especially honoured to have been asked to give the keynote speech at this conference.
As the general election of 2015 approaches, I would like to take this opportunity to share with you the work that the British Poultry Council (BPC) does to connect this vital industry of ours with the worlds of Westminster, Fleet Street and Broadcasting House, so that you in the industry have a supportive environment in which to produce food for the 62 million Britons who depend on you every day.
Punching above our weight
Back in 2012, the Board of the British Poultry Council took a fundamental decision, one that governs the way I work almost every day. The decision it took was to embark on a public affairs campaign to ensure that policy makers, journalists and by extension the general public know what the poultry meat industry is, why it is important and what they need to do to support it.
Historically the poultry industry had not been greatly engaged at a political level. It had focused on the detail of policy with civil servants and let its excellence in producing affordable food take care of the rest.
However, the BPC Board reflected that we needed to punch above our weight with both politicians and journalists otherwise the industry would be subject to pressure from both outside vested interests and unthinking policy makers. We needed to make sure that the concerns of your business were front and centre in the minds of politicians.
Why are we important?
And it is right that we occupy that place in people’s minds.
After all Poultry meat is the UK’s favourite meat – just under 50% of all meat sold in the UK is poultry. About the same as beef, pork and lamb combined. Chicken, Turkey, Duck and Goose are staple parts of the British diet – and as BPC research has shown – more affordable than other meats too.
And it’s British food too. The UK is 84% self-sufficient in poultry meat, contributing to the UK’s food security at a time of geopolitical tension. In numbers that is just shy of a billion birds every year, and all produced without any direct support through the Common Agricultural Policy.
As well as our contribution to the dinner plates of Britain, the British Poultry Industry is also a vital contributor to the economy of the UK.
Poultry meat production supports over 73,000 jobs – many of which are in rural and semi-rural constituencies a world away from the turbo-charged growth of London.
The poultry meat industry in the UK has over £6 billion in sales every year and adds some £3.3 billion in value to the UK economy. As an industry we pay around £1 billion in tax every year – or enough to pay for more than 40,000 teachers.
This then is our industry. Perhaps the most important part of the food industry in the UK. Present on every table in Britain, present in many parliamentary constituencies and on the front page, whenever food is discussed in the media.
Vision for 2020
The British Poultry Council has set out a vision for how the industry should be in 2020.
We aim for an industry that has grown from today in value, exports and employment. We want to satisfy the growing global demand for meat from here in the UK – and contribute to our economic rebalancing away from financial services and London centric growth.
We seek greater recognition for the contribution that poultry meat can make to a healthy British diet as a meat with lower levels of saturated fats.
Our vision is for poultry to make a continued significant contribution to UK food security as Britain’s most affordable source of meat – accounting in future for more than half of all meat sold in the UK.
Finally, our vision for the future of British poultry includes a sustained and significant decline in the levels of Campylobacter in British chicken – a long term project on which I know many of you are working day in and day out to conclude.
What do we need to happen?
So if this is our vision, then what are we going to be asking the politicians of Britain to do on our behalf to help to make this happen?
Growth and Exports
Firstly, our politicians need to ensure that the overall economic environment supports the continued development of our sector.
The 2009 National Farmers Union poultry housing survey revealed that the average age of UK poultry houses was in excess of 25 years. Policy makers need to recognise the importance of continued investment in the housing stock so that poultry can be produced in the best and most sustainable conditions possible. We seek reform of the planning system to enable this investment to take place in a smooth and planned way. We need a better balance between the national priority for food security and the concerns of local communities. The current system fails everyone – with both residents and farmers left feeling short changed.
Back in 2011, the Agricultural Buildings Allowance was removed by HM Treasury with little if any consultation. The effect of this so called tax reform was to remove an incentive to invest in new poultry housing. We’re calling for the Treasury to review their position, and recognise the benefits that further investment in poultry housing would bring to the UK, and re-establish a regime of capital allowances for such investment to modernise the UK poultry housing stock.
Unless we can produce a predictable planning system and a supportive tax regime then over time we risk losing productive capacity to other countries that have taken a more pragmatic approach.
The same is true of the position on international trade.
The UK poultry sector needs export markets to be able to grow its supplies in the UK. The carcass balance means that export markets are needed for bone in and leg quarter portions to support the UK breast meat market. The BPC already has a good relationship with DEFRA through the Export Certificate Users Group that prioritises overseas markets and focuses DEFRA resource on the intergovernmental negotiations required to open those markets. However, we can always do more and while we recognise the severe resource constraints around all government departments – both industry and DEFRA need to find a way of increasing export support for poultry. Not by way of subsidy or export refunds, but the diplomatic and trade support to open markets, agree trade protocols and conduct plant inspections.
We also need to ensure that the playing field for imported meat into the UK is as level as it can be. In this regard we are concerned about the conduct of the current negotiations between the EU and US in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
BPC, through its European Association A.V.E.C has held a number of consultations with EU officials to understand their negotiating priorities and promote our own. We understand, as does every single industry in Europe that the potential benefits for the European and world economy are huge. But they will not be realised unless the European Commission negotiators dig in hard, as their American counterparts will be doing, to get the best deal possible, line by line and sector by sector. We have been given little confidence that the European Commission is prepared to negotiate hard on behalf of the poultry meat sector. An excessive focus on the product itself, without a full understanding of the process by which it is produced, risks leaving the EU and UK poultry industries at a permanent and damaging competitive disadvantage.
I call upon the European Commission to step up to this challenge and to negotiate a TTIP agreement for poultry meat that respects not just free trade, but also the process investments in hygiene that EU producers have made over many years.
Our second campaigning focus is on the supply of feed into the poultry sector. As you all know, the biggest cost to the poultry industry is in the supply of feed – accounting for 60 to 70% of the costs of raising a bird for the table.
The BPC will be campaigning for a number of actions to assist you in securing reliable and competitive feed supplies in the long term.
We seek a minimisation of the land taken out of production as a result of the “greening” reforms of CAP. We believe that a wider range of landscape features should count as ecological focus areas – otherwise the UK wheat crop will fall and the poultry industry, which purchases some 20% of that crop, will be exposed to further price and supply volatility.
The same is true for GM crops. We recognise that this is a highly controversial area, and that there are sincerely and deeply held views on both sides of the debate. However, for the food security of the UK we need to maximise crop yields in a sustainable way – and GM has a role to play here. The EU has recently given member states the powers to take decisions on which EU approved GM crops are grown in their countries, and we hope that, guided by scientific evidence, the UK will seek to use these powers to increase the volume of feed crops grown in the UK.
Our final concern on feed is the development of new sources of proteins, and especially the advancement of insect based poultry feeds. The UK poultry industry is dependent on soya protein, largely grown in South America, and a significant cause of feed price and supply volatility. The UK government is currently supporting a number of projects into the feasibility of insect based proteins in poultry feed, and we strongly encourage this work to continue, as well as supporting the UK Government’s discussions with its European counterparts in removing the regulatory barriers to a greater use of insect based proteins in the food chain.
Nutrition and Affordability
The final key campaigning message that we will be giving is on the contribution to sustainable nutrition in the UK that poultry, as an affordable low fat meat, can provide.
The UK, in common with many other nations is struggling with obesity. Some 67% of UK men and 57% of UK women are either overweight or obese. Now, I’m not going to pretend that eating poultry is the sole answer to the obesity crisis, and a lot depends on how it is served. But fundamentally poultry is a low fat meat – and it has a valuable part to play in improving the health of the nation.
The second aspect of poultry’s role in feeding Britain is its affordability. The price of poultry meat has increased over time significantly less than the price of other meats. This is testament to your hard work over many years in improving the efficiency and productivity of your operations. This affordability is an important second aspect in the nutrition debate. Not only does poultry meat contribute to a healthy diet, but it does so in an affordable and sustainable way, in contrast to some of the expensive and highly marketed fad foods we see from time to time. Taking a broad view of food security, it clear that a UK produced meat, that is low in fat and affordable is a sound investment in that security.
The next step therefore is to look at public procurement. The UK Government buys a significant amount of meat for use in schools, the armed forces, hospitals and a variety of other institutions. Given the advantages of poultry meat in terms of cost, local sourcing and low fat – the Government should be doing more to ensure that poultry is on the menu more of the time. We are encouraged by some recent initiatives on a balanced scorecard for food procurement and the renewed focus on nutrition in schools – and we will be making the case for poultry meat to be on the menu as much as possible.
Key issues for the future
So these then are our issues for today – the positive messages that the poultry industry will be promoting in the coming months aimed at improving the business environment for the sector.
But we also need to look to the future beyond that, and build our resources to continue to promote a positive agenda for the poultry meat industry into the medium term. It is vital that we as an industry can communicate with confidence what we do to the widest possible audience, so that when policy makers take decisions that affect your daily work, they do so in full knowledge of the tremendous efforts that we are all making to feed the nation in a sustainable way.
In that regard I was delighted to see James Hook recently on the BBC’s Countryfile discussing P. D. Hook’s work on responsible use of antibiotics and also David Spellar from Applied Poultry on the same programme a few weeks back presenting his modern poultry farm. I look forward to seeing many more representatives of this industry on TV, online and in print, showing the world what we do. And the British Poultry Council stands ready to support and advise those businesses that wish to contribute to the debate.
And it is important that we all do this. There are a number of challenges ahead that we as an industry need to confront and show the world that we are managing in a competent and controlled manner.
Campylobacter is the most important issue facing the poultry industry in the short term, and the FSA’s plans to publish data in November for individual retailers and producers will keep it very much in the media and public mind. The UK chicken industry is embarking on a world leading effort to reduce campylobacter all the way along the supply chain from farm to fork. Significant investments are being made in production without thinning and in temperature based surface treatments to name but two. We should be proud of these efforts and of our commitment to producing the safest possible food, and I look forward to promoting a much greater level of public awareness of the industry’s work to reduce campylobacter – and in the successes that I am confident will come.
A further major challenge is in the use of antibiotics. The UK poultry industry wholeheartedly supports the work of RUMA (the Responsible Users of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance) in promoting the mantra of “as little as possible but as much as necessary”. RUMA has recently prepared a comprehensive position statement on antibiotic use in all farm animals that rebuts the ill-founded arguments of those who oppose animal antibiotic use on principle. Responsible use of antibiotics is a vital part of good husbandry and the protection of animal health and welfare and BPC will be promoting and supporting the RUMA position as widely as possible in the coming months.
The final major challenge is that of animal welfare. Many people continue to be concerned about the conditions in which their meat is produced. In other EU countries, governments have taken initiatives such as the Chicken of Tomorrow in the Netherlands and the progressive reduction of stocking densities in Germany, as a result of the influence of welfare pressure groups. In the UK, we should be confident that we supply meat to the market from a variety of humane production systems, barn reared, free range and organic, and that the customer can choose to purchase whatever they want. We should make clear that cages do not and have never played a part in meat production, despite what many still think. And finally, we should allow the public to see for themselves what modern poultry production looks like and to understand the considerable efforts that this industry makes to produce food in a highly sustainable way.
I am very proud to be playing my own small role in the British Poultry Industry.
Feeding the nation is one of the most noble of occupations and you should all also be proud of what you do, every day, to ensure that every family in Britain has the opportunity to eat British poultry meat; produced to high and sustainable standards and at an affordable price.
As an industry our products are already present in nearly every household in the country. We have begun the work to embed ourselves in the minds of politicians and journalists so that the benefits to the UK provided by UK produced poultry meat are uppermost when they consider policies that affect our industry.
This is a never ending task; we are moving towards promoting our own issues in a positive and confident way as well as responding authoritatively to issues raised by others. This is an exciting time for the industry – the opportunities are great and there has never been a greater eagerness to know more about our meat and where it comes from.
I am greatly looking forward to supporting this industry in the coming years and to working with you to build the opportunities for growth in production, income and employment. Thank you.