The NFU has responded to a poll by the RSPCA which says 73% of consumers are buying higher welfare chicken after watching the recent television shows by celebrity chefs by urging shoppers that buying British must also be top of their shopping list.

Trends in consumer buying show a divide among consumers, with the better-off opting to buy free range and organic chicken, while people on lower incomes continue to rely on the availability of low cost, healthy chicken and eggs.

But the increase in demand for higher welfare birds is forcing retail buyers abroad, warns NFU poultry board chairman Charles Bourns.

Accelerated demand

He believes the industry was already reacting to consumer demand for higher welfare chicken and eggs before the programmes by Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall but says the shows have accelerated demand beyond UK supply and farmers need time and money to invest in new production methods.

“It is important for farmers, consumers and the economy to support a thriving British poultry industry and I welcome people taking an interest with how their food is produced, after all it is what the NFU’s ‘Why Farming Matters’ campaign has been all about.

“But producers need to have profitable prices at the farm gate to ensure they are able to react to these changes in the marketplace and change their production systems”, he said.

Cost sensitive

Robert Newbery, NFU chief poultry adviser, added: “The majority of the market is still for low cost, efficiently produced, healthy chicken meat and eggs. This is still a very cost sensitive market place.

According to our cost of production research, NFU members are losing around 2.5p for every chicken produced. It’s a brave business that invests hundreds of thousands of pounds in new buildings and land in that kind of market place, not to mention the difficulties faced trying to gain planning permission for all these new units required, he said.