In the forty years of being part of the EU, the meaning of Britishness has become something of an abstract concept for the meat sector. We know consumers want British but in many cases, such a definition extends only as far as geographical boundaries and the Union flag on the packaging. We have abrogated to the EU the responsibility for the values we attach to food production and its consumption.
This has not been a bad thing. We have seen steadily improving standards across Europe that have helped animal welfare, food safety, and trade. We have stopped worrying about what British means because we haven’t had to worry. A universal farm-to-fork approach has cocooned us and reassured us. This has even extended beyond Europe to those third-countries from whom we import. European standards have been applied far and wide.
So now, in very short order, we British producers need to identify what British food means to British consumers. What are the values that we and they attach to food? The poultry meat sector prides itself on providing safe, nutritious, and wholesome food, but that alone may prove to be insufficient.
The subject has the potential to be massive in scope and complexity, and the factors multifarious. For industry to balance affordability, product quality, welfare, environmental impact, commercial viability, employment, and trade, to name but a few, will be difficult. For the average consumer stood in front of a supermarket shelf it will be impossible.
Let’s look at the problem from the other direction. Instead of asking what a consumer gets by buying British, we should be asking what that consumer gives. Buying British helps their local and national economy, it supports jobs, it backs good welfare, and it increases self-sufficiency for the country. Ultimately it creates sustainable food production.
But all that takes trust, and now more than ever we as a nation need to demonstrate trust in our meat industry, and in return the meat industry needs to step up and deliver. Replace the word consumer with Government food procurement policy and we would have a huge show of trust in our farmers and food producers.
British poultry is good for the economy, jobs, welfare, self-sufficiency, and sustainable food production. That’s got to be a definition of British that consumers and Government alike can get behind.
A version of this article first appeared in Meat Management magazine