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Feed costs and welfare issues squeeze poultry processors

By Rick Pendrous , 12-Feb-2013
Last updated on 12-Feb-2013 at 10:16 GMT

Britain's poultry producers and processors are being squeezed by the combined impact of the high cost of feed and higher welfare standards in the UK.

They have called for more action from the UK government to address the competitive imbalance with their overseas competitors, or risk losing an important sector of domestic food chain.

"It continues to be a struggle," said Jeremy Hall, technical director of Bernard Matthews, speaking at the Food Manufacture Business leaders' Forum in London last month. "The biggest issue we have got is in relation to the inflationary effect of food costs."

'Considerable problem'

Hall added: "Soya is a considerable problem in relation to GM [genetically modified] feed and I think the government has got to start leading and outlining to consumers that GM is not a threat or danger. It is a necessity if we are going to feed 9bn people [the predicted growth in the global population by 2050]."

Meurig Raymond, deputy president of the National Farmers Union, welcomed the support given to GM production by environment secretary Owen Paterson at last month's Oxford Farming conference.

Raymond said: "It is becoming impossible for the livestock industry, the white meat industry pigs and broiler production to actually source non-GM protein on the global market. And if you can source it, it is costing at least £100 a tonne premium over GM."

'Gold plating'

Philip Wilkinson, a director with poultry processors 2 Sisters Food Group, lamented the "gold plating" of welfare legislation in the UK. "In the poultry sector we have to produce chicken [at a density of] 39kg/m2. Across continental Europe with most of our competitors they produce up to 42kg/m2. When we are working on such razor-thin margins the difference between 39kg/m2 and 42kg/m2 is the difference between profit and loss."

He added that he didn't have a problem with those conditions being imposed on UK suppliers, but added: "If they are imposed on UK suppliers, they should also be imposed on those who export into the UK." He urged the government to address this anomaly as a matter of urgency.

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