Off the back of this year’s EPIC Conference, I’ve been thinking about what ‘poultry in a sustainable supply chain’ really means in practice. In a world facing environmental catastrophe and big inequalities across the board, with the scaffolding of civic space eroding, a weakening economy and a narrowing labour market, it is growing clear that the transition to a fairer and greener society goes way beyond solar panels and resource efficiency.
Sessions explored poultry’s role in a sustainable supply chain through different lenses, from the health agenda to Net Zero to trade. Whilst it is important that we recognise our role in a sustainable supply chain has various dimensions, I think continuing to compartmentalise issues becomes an exercise in justifying our actions, exploring how we fit into a bigger narrative rather than using that narrative to be the launchpad for us to genuinely grapple with obstacles, use them to define what we value as an industry and explore what that means for our sense of delivery going forward.
Industry’s impact and purpose can be found in the intricacies that connect different challenges, as we’ve observed with discussion pertaining to welfare and our environmental impact. These issues are not neatly boxed, so applying a single lens mindset to our role in a sustainable supply chain is only going to dilute our impact and purpose in the long run. The longer we do so, the more limits we impose on our ability to create meaningful change that defines our responsibilities and contributions to a greener, fairer and more sustainable future.
I’m not one to complain without positing some idea so I jotted down four essential points throughout EPIC I think are key to unlocking this next phase of dialogue. The aim is to shift our focus to the complex web of challenges and values that shape our role in a sustainable supply chain, not just looking how we fit into it:
- How much food can we produce at home? Food remains at the core of economic and geopolitical uncertainty. We have a Government that emphasises the importance of domestic production but has created an environment for it to do anything but thrive. The most reliable source of food is what we produce at home. If we want to produce more of it, the only rules should be that it is safe, affordable and nutritious, and the systems producing it as low impact as possible. This is a criteria that is not entirely unfamiliar to our industry.
- Nature cannot fail. If people and planet are reciprocal goods and food is the point at which they connect then our economies, societies and businesses are very much dependent on a healthy planet. Making nature visible any chance we get, be that in our statistics, statements or progress reports means we first and foremost acknowledge our dependence on it, and secondly underscore the urgency of adapting to and mitigating the effects of climate change. A sustainable food system is underpinned by safe, affordable, low impact food to get us to a place where we can tackle the social inequalities that define climate change. So saying ‘nature cannot fail’ is about transparency, recognising its value to our social, economic and business landscapes.
- Fair, resilient economies. We require an economically secure environment that unlocks investment in service of setting out a vision for a system that feeds people, tackles inequalities and gaps with quality and affordable food and promotes a liveable climate for all. If we get that right then the win is a society that doesn’t waste potential – from human to economic. Tackling inequality is at the core of a sustainable food system, so businesses must be given the confidence to increase investment and capacity to make that happen.
- We need to talk about skills. There is no shying away from a drop in output and overall stagnancy without capturing investment in evolving skills profiles while patching up holes in immigration. Discourse must be embedded into a wider conversation on productivity, self-sufficiency, and what we want food to achieve. Only by actively engaging on skills can we hope to navigate the evolving landscape of food production with agility, efficiency, and a keen eye on the long-term sustainability of the British poultry meat industry.