All of the speakers at the poultry breakout session at NFU Conference 2020 looked at how the poultry and eggs sectors could ‘farm without barriers’.
Thomas Wornham looked back on the key areas of work during his two-year tenure as chairman of the National Poultry Board. The NFU has worked on a vast number of issues that have affected members’ businesses and the industry is going through a lot of change.
Mr Wornham began by outlining some of the pressure on poultry: NGO pressure and welfare campaigns. And then he talked about the lobbying work that the NFU has undertaken with MPs to challenge the ‘ban the cage age’ campaign.
He highlighted the need for science and evidence-based decisions, demonstrated by the two reports the NFU commissioned into the Better Chicken standards and the NFU’s recent research and development seminar. One of the key aims for the future is to create smaller working groups from the board who will work on dedicated areas such as net zero, education, activism and farm breaks ins and food strategy.
Two years ago, the team launched the Proud of Poultry campaign at conference.
This year they unveiled a suite of infographics to use online and when engaging with members of the public about poultry issues. These sit alongside a host of educational resources for members who are part of the ‘Speakers for Schools’ programme.
Mr Wornham’s presentation ended with a video from the Poultry Industry Programme participants. The PIP is in its fourth year and represents continued investment in the next generation of poultry leaders. This year, the NFU joined forces with Zoetis to provide a £2,000 training grant for an up and coming poultry worker.
Veli Moluluo (below), managing director of the consumer foods division of Noble Foods talked about the challenges facing the egg sector.
He began by saying that the UK is a nation of egg lovers, with 199 eggs being eaten per person, per year and an industry worth £951 million, but with consumption here still lower than in many Western European countries, and he highlighted how marketeers in the UK could lift it further.
One of the main challenges facing egg producers is the commitment by most retailers to ban cage eggs by 2025, following pressure from animal welfare groups.
Although 70% of the market is free-range, this still leaves the industry with the issue of replacing the lower priced caged eggs, which represent more than 20% of the market. Some retailers have been leaning towards barn eggs, but it is not yet clear if consumers will support this move, justifying the capital investment required to change systems.
Mr Moluluo talked about the threat of salmonella in eggs to the industry and moves by France to ban the culling of male chicks by 2021, which may put pressure on UK markets. The possibility of an end to beak trimming may have welfare implications for laying hens.
Michael Moniz (below) from Kantar Worldpanel gave an in-depth look at consumer trends and talked about what Brexit and the rise of meat-free eating means for the poultry sector.
Across the board, volumes of fresh poultry, chicken, turkey and eggs are up between 2.2-3.4% year on year. A decline in whole-bird sales has reduced the value of turkey by 0.7%, but this was set against a backdrop of consumers tightening their belts this Christmas.
The Kantar data showed that consumers were concerned about the effect of a no-deal Brexit on their food bills and this had led to a growth in home cooking as people cut back on eating out. More people are making larger meals to feed more of the family or to cover more meals.
Meat-free meals are increasing with 89% of meat-free meals being eaten by non-vegetarians. However, the effect on poultry is thought to be very small. The eggs sector needs to increase its market innovation in order to keep shoppers engaged in the category, as well as developing a ‘lower tier’ offer.
The delegates also heard from Patrick Hook, of hatchery PD Hook. He was discussing the challenges for the broiler sector and highlighted staffing issues. "I can’t underestimate the importance of people. I was extremely concerned last week when the Migration Proposals were released by government only reducing the salary to £25,000.
"Sixty per cent of our industry, that is 22k people, are from the European Union in our sector. There’s only 3.8% unemployment in the UK, a 50-year low. There simply isn’t the demographic in this country able to do the work our industry needs. We can automate, but to manage the health and welfare of our birds we need people. And it’s not unskilled labour. You need a minimum standard of training to work on a poultry farm.
"We’ve got fantastic opportunities in the poultry sector, but we can only meet that if we have the people. Some of the UK’s poultry processing plants are 90% European labour. I think it’s really important that we get onto the shortage occupation list."
In case you missed it, here are some easy ways to catch up with the highlights from both days at the ICC, Birmingham: