Coronavirus update: A message from the NFU poultry board chairman

NFU poultry board chairman Thomas Wornham gives an update on the situation facing the poultry sector and the NFU's work with retailers. He writes:

The past six weeks for many will have seemed like a blur. I’m sure I speak for all farmers when I say most of us will have been rushed off our feet dealing with requests from customers, finding solutions for issues cropping up on farm and ensuring our families and staff are keeping safe and well.

In these series of blogs, I’ve largely written about the issues we have all been dealing with on farm and how we at the NFU are working to resolve them. However, everything we’re doing in our business is to produce food for the public and the role of the retailers has never been under the spotlight more.


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Overall, our supply chains have rightly been the subject of praise through the years and we are seeing the results now, with the public seeing well stocked shelves and plenty of choice. However, it’s fair to say that disruption has meant opportunity for some and huge detriment to others.

The NFU team has been working around the clock to ensure impacts have been minimised in the poultry sector, helping to link businesses together in the heat of the crisis and working with Defra to re-plumb supply chains to keep supply chains moving, and we are continuing to work hard to support disadvantaged businesses. I think the poultry sector response to the national effort is something we should all be very proud to have contributed to.

Relationships with retailers are absolutely key, whether that’s as a farmer, customer, supplier, or the NFU. Each has been crucial in managing redirecting supply from food service to retail in order to keep the nation fed and product moving off farm.

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By using this form, farmers and growers can provide information on any business-critical issues they have encountered, or expect to encounter, arising from the COVID-19 outbreak. The NFU will log this information and use it in an anonymised format to flag the key issues agriculture and horticulture are facing to government on a daily basis. However, no personal data will be shared with the government. The service is for all farmers and growers across the UK.

We have met unprecedented demand from the public for eggs and poultry meat – at the time of writing demand is up 30% and 25% respectively – and we have largely seen the retailers continue their strong support for British product in their sourcing policies.

However, the reason I say largely is that we have seen sporadic examples of imported product on shelves. This is incredibly frustrating and something I believe the consumer doesn’t want to see either. Whether that is Polish chicken or Dutch eggs, we are challenging these instances directly with the retailer, taking due account of availability and ensuring British and our production values are sought first.

We have been reassured on both instances mentioned above by the retailers involved that these are short-term measures and they remain committed to sourcing British product. I want members to know that we will continue to challenge these sourcing decisions at the highest level.

British poultry farmers stand ready to provide our products to retailers and ensure the public can continue to enjoy those nutritious and traceable British staples. We do not expect to see retailers undercut our farmers with product that is often produced to lower standards and at a lower cost of production, particularly when there is a sufficient supply of British product available.

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