Viewing the industry feeding the nation through a single-interest lens demonstrates an incredible lack of knowledge about what we do and why we do it. Following this article in The Telegraph we thought it right to make sure that the voice of the industry is heard, sharing just how much goes into our production systems and what we all get out of it.
Poultry is half the meat the nation eats. Over 80% of production is considered ‘standard,’ reared indoors to world class standards. With that comes a great responsibility, and one we are incredibly proud of: the safe, affordable, nutritious food our members produce helps to tackle the inequalities of our time while contributing to a liveable climate for all. Suggesting we offer anything but that completely undermines our farmers, producers and the decades of investment and innovation that define British poultry production. That we have a responsibility to feed people and manage our impact means our farmers do not have the luxury others possess of focusing on just one issue to the detriment of all else. We balance welfare, environmental impact, consumer needs, and rocketing cost of production amongst other challenges, to produce food people can trust and afford to standards that they know are high quality.
Everyone deserves to have confidence in their food, including where it comes from and how it is produced – especially if the ambition for British food and farming is to strive for more self-sufficiency and continue our commitments to green transition (regardless of government policy). That is why we are responding to an article that we were not asked to contribute to. When stories in national publications with thousands of readers do not separate opinion from fact it perpetuates a stigma about our industry, underpinned by misleading information and unsubstantiated claims that must be corrected.
We do not genetically modify birds
A billion birds a year are reared for food in this country and our farmers have a duty of care to every single one. That “welfare has been sacrificed for cost,” and is underpinned by “artificial intervention,” are false claims that we strongly refute. We do not genetically modify birds. Our sector has breeding programmes that are based on natural selection, where birds demonstrating good health and productivity traits are chosen to pass their genes onto the next generation. As a result of years’ worth of selection focused on improving bird wellbeing, health, and robustness, we go on to see significant improvements in bird welfare and efficiency: now 70% of the world’s poultry derives from UK breeding stock, a testament to our industry and the strides we are making in feeding the UK, if not the world.
Using antibiotics as growth promoters is illegal
The safe and responsible use of antibiotics has been prioritised by the poultry meat industry since 2011. We were the first livestock sector to voluntarily develop a strategy for the responsible use of antibiotics, which has seen overall use decrease 80% and the use of critically important antibiotics decrease by 98.5%. Using antibiotics as growth promoters is illegal. We preserve the efficacy of the limited number of antibiotics available for poultry species, using them when necessary to ensure the health and wellbeing of livestock is not compromised. We collate data recording annual use via the BPC Antibiotic Stewardship, which you can read here.
Indoor production methods do not spread avian influenza
Avian influenza is carried into the UK by migratory birds and is becoming endemic in the wild bird population. No poultry has avian influenza when it goes onto farm. Out of the 350 cases declared last year, only 8 were standard broiler units, all of which derived from outside the farm through wild bird incursion. When disease is detected, the farm is culled so disease does not leave the farm.
We use less soy than you think
Soy generally makes up around 20% a chicken’s feed, meaning we use around 30% of UK imports of soy (not 60%). Producers are part of recognised responsible soy use programmes and are exploring alternative feed sources as means of reducing impact further.
Poultry farms are subject to stringent and regulated environmental protection
Our farms are subject to stringent and regulated environmental protection. All pollution risks continue to be monitored and managed, and we take control of what we can control. Farmers who subsequently use poultry manure for fertiliser purposes also have a responsibility to ensure that it is used correctly.
Higher welfare products are available
BPC members subscribe to Red Tractor assurance, a set of standards that are in place to ensure good welfare across all systems. That birds “cannot stand” or have “no room” to move about within standard production is false. Our members produce all variations across different standards. If you want higher welfare, or organic, or free range products, they are available.
Standard production makes up over 80% of the market because it is the most efficient and low impact method that maintains world class welfare standards and remains affordable for the consumer. There are no alternatives that can recreate that balance of innovation, productivity, and efficiency at a time that we, with Government and regulators, have set our sights on minimising inputs. Higher welfare indoor reared production makes up about 15% of production. These are available for consumers to purchase if that is their preference, but they come at a cost to our efficiency and productivity and therefore have a pronounced impact on the environment and cost of production (about 30% more).
The true cost of tunnel vision thinking
Feeding the nation underlines what all BPC members know: the birds are the most valuable part of any farm, so their health and welfare are valued as such. We also balance our duty to bird health and welfare alongside our other responsibilities to put quality food on every table that people trust. This obsession with only one aspect of how we produce food will backfire – where we will see our industry exported, the standards we have worked hard to achieve lowered (including welfare), and British poultry prices rise at a time quality, affordable food matters more than ever.
Transparent discussion is at the heart of continual progress so we are disappointed that this particular story fell short of the journalistic standard we expect. Whilst we accept the thoughts and opinions of others when it comes to how we produce the food we need, we do not accept deceptive information that misleads our consumers or makes false claims at the jeopardy of our world class industry.