On my very first day at the British Poultry Council, the first stat I had engrained into my brain was that “60% of our labour force derives from EU states.”
Sounds like any old fact, right? Something businesses and enterprises are ‘proud to state’ and all that. We’re diverse. We’re far-reaching. We care.
But this figure seriously struck me. It was around 30 minutes into my first day at the British Poultry Council when I learned this – which also happened to be the very day Priti Patel, Home Secretary, announced her plans for a new points-based post-Brexit immigration policy.
Not only did this bode really well for an extraordinarily busy week in the office (I was told I had started at the right time!), it really made me think on what my role in the council was, and what we, as a trade association, strive for.
I’m a big fan of breaking down words into their simplest format. I’ve never been one for long phrases or fancy terminology. I started with the very title of the association I work for:
We’re called the British Poultry Council. Poultry: chickens, geese, turkeys. We stand for that. Ok.
We’re called the British Poultry Council. British poultry reared in Britain, to British animal welfare standards. Ok.
We’re called the British Poultry Council. Council. A body of people. Not a gang of bird clucking over our feed or whatever. We’re humans functioning together as a team.
There is a very human aspect to the Council that I think people forget about, or maybe aren’t aware of. We’re the people who look out for poultry on a national level, sure. But there are a lot of people behind the poultry. We care about everyone involved – from the people rearing them to the people consuming them. People are as much a priority as poultry.
There’s a face behind those figures. That 60% I talked about earlier, as dull and dreary a fact as it might sound to anyone beyond the BPC walls, as “unskilled” and “low-earning” as our Home Secretary claims they are, is comprised of faces and farmers and families who have relied on this sector for decades. They need support. And they’re anything but “unskilled.” Salary isn’t proxy to skill.
What these people need are other people who care; they need other people to communicate for them when their voices aren’t heard.
We are just as people-centric as we are poultry-centric.
We need to start a conversation about a food system that leave no one behind. It could be a farmer in need of some support regarding innovative technology. It could be someone saving up for their Turkey this Christmas to feed their family. It doesn’t matter: people need confidence in food as a constant.
Brexit has thrown a spanner in the works. No matter what side of the debate you find yourself, you cannot deny the fact that food security is at risk – more so than it ever has been before. I’ve seen talks of chlorinated chicken dominating the headlines for days at this point. The media can’t stop talking about the USA and I understand why; it’s news, it’s trade, it’s dramatic. It makes for a great headline.
Call it ‘insider knowledge’ or whatever (ten days on the job and I’m calling myself an ‘insider’ already!) but, in my opinion, the USA is way down the list of priorities to tackle at this point. Why talk about a country which has no – literally no – legal standards of animal welfare, when we can focus on what we have right here in the UK? What we have, that is, being standards.
When we make it clear what our standards and production processes are to people, ensuring that they know our values when it comes to poultry production and not just taking them for granted, then and only then can we thoughtfully bring chemically washed chicken into our people-centric dialogue.
People need to learn why we talk about poultry. They need to know what British standards are and why they’re in place. If we can present an opportunity for people to gain insight and understanding of this basic framework (this is the BPC, this is what we do and this is what we want to achieve), we can rely on their knowledge of our values and collaborate to maintain and further develop our standards.
60% isn’t just a statistic. It’s someone’s livelihood. It’s someone’s weekly shopping bill. It’s the food on everyone’s table. That number is representative of a system that needs support. And I am proud to say that, in just under two weeks at the British Poultry Council, I feel very much a part of it. I’m excited to get the ball rolling!