Poultry: Our net zero journey

01 November 2021

Chickens, eggs, turkeys and geese

In the run-up to COP26 in November, the NFU poultry team invited stakeholders from across the poultry industry to come together on 28 October for a net zero event.

With COP26 (the UN Climate Change Conference) beginning on 31 October, the NFU poultry team invited stakeholders from across the poultry industry to come together for a discussion on the sector’s ambitions for net zero.

Chaired by NFU national poultry board chair Thomas Wornham, over 60 participants from across the supply chain joined a virtual session for an informative and engaging discussion.

Attendees recognised the progress already made by the sector in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and identified the challenges still to overcome in the journey to net zero. The event provided an opportunity to show leadership as a sector and to develop recommendations for COP26 and beyond, to guide further discussions and future action.

How producers are reducing emissions

After an introduction to net zero from Andrea Graham, the NFU’s head of land use and innovation, participants heard from different poultry producers on the actions they have been taking within their businesses to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

Free range egg producer Llŷr Jones spoke of the way he had focused on farm diversification to make his operation more environmentally friendly and economically resilient, by investing in renewable energy.

Broiler producer Will Oliver highlighted the link between action for net zero and improving the profitability of a business, and how environmental and economic benefits can align; what works for net zero often makes good business sense.

Seasonal turkey producer Chris Rumming demonstrated how businesses of all scales and sizes can contribute towards the sector’s journey to net zero and highlighted the power of connecting with consumers to tell a local story of sustainability.

Retailers' viewpoints

The second session of the day focused further along the supply chain, featuring representatives from various trade organisations and a retailer viewpoint.

Speakers discussed how they were supporting net zero initiatives across the poultry sector. John Kirkpatrick, Tesco’s agricultural manager for poultry meat, eggs and feed, highlighted the need to act collectively, the importance of meaningful data as evidence of where we are, the progress we’re making and where we need to go next and that the sector needs to be bold to collectively make interventions to improve action, whilst still ensuring profitability.

A common language

British Egg Industry Council chair Andrew Joret commented on the need for a common language of carbon and the need to avoid using only global averages that do not relate to UK production systems.

The final speaker for this session was the technical director of the British Poultry Council Máire Burnett who also talked about the importance of collaboration and the shared ambition the sector has for incremental achievable change and the need to drive productivity for the common good.

Throughout the presentations, feed was identified as a common thread with the recognition that this is an area the sector needs to focus on, particularly when it comes to the carbon footprint associated with the use of soya.

Ambitions for net zero

All participants were then given the opportunity to input their own views on the poultry sector’s ambitions for net zero via two virtual breakout sessions, one for the egg sector and the other for poultry meat.

The following points were summarised after the breakout sessions and formed the recommendations which would be taken forward to COP26 on behalf of the poultry sector:

  • Consistent greenhouse gas (GHG) calculations and figures are needed for poultry businesses to benchmark themselves in a pre-competitive space.
  • GHG calculations should be looked at on a nutritional basis to demonstrate the benefits of eating poultry meat and eggs as part of a balanced, healthy and sustainable diet.
  • Changes to legislation, plus the buy-in of consumers and retailers are required to allow the use of insect and animal protein in feed to reduce soya usage.
  • Investment is also needed from the supply chain and government to foster innovation and drive research to help make novel proteins (for example insects, algae and home-grown protein crops) commercially viable.
  • The poultry sector is market-led, so better communication with consumers and policy makers is needed to demonstrate the progress already made by the sector towards net zero and gain the support needed to go even further.
  • Financial support is a consideration needed to allow businesses to adopt green technology that would otherwise not be commercially viable.
  • Science and evidence will be crucial to help the sector make evidence-based decisions and to help tell our story to members of the public.
  • Clarity and commitment from the government and retailers on long term priorities are needed to allow the poultry industry to create a framework for future progress.

Summing up

Jack Watts, NFU’s agri-food policy delivery manager, had the unenviable task of summarising the discussions from throughout the event and concluded with three overarching themes that had emerged over the course of the afternoon:

  1. Collaboration is essential, both within the sector and across other sectors (eg. with the arable sector) to maximise the circular economy and the value of co-products.
  2. The importance of advocacy and better communication with consumers on industry action and what this means for consumers themselves, along with advocacy in the policy arena to explain the interventions needed to get the shared infrastructure, investment, and regulatory environment right for a circular economy to exist.
  3. Supporting a thriving base of entrepreneurs and innovators is key to progression. There needs to be a regulatory environment that supports ongoing innovation and inward investment to allow the testing of new ideas and opportunities in order to scale them up.

Just the beginning

These are, of course, just the beginning of further discussions and actions. The aim of this event was to start formalising the collaborative approach across the sector, and it has created a starting point for the work that the sector will continue to do towards meeting net zero targets.

The NFU poultry team looks forward to continuing to collaborate across the supply chain and industry in future on this topic. Making progress towards net zero is a huge challenge for all areas of society and it is our collective efforts and ideas that will bring us closer to more meaningful and effective action.

Look out for further opportunities to join future events to help you find your way on your own journey to net zero.

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