An expert group is to be established in Ireland to look at the status of the poultry industry and the factors affecting it, including cheap imports.

Brendan Smith, Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food announced the move at the third bi-annual Poultry & Egg Conference in Co Meath.

“In the light of recent developments in the poultry sector and in the wider food sector, there is a need now to take an overall look at what needs to be done and what can be done.

“The objective is to determine what steps can be taken to best assist the sector going forward. The department is very anxious to ensure that we continue to have a viable industry in the long term. It is vital to avoid serious slippage in output levels now as in all probability it would be unlikely that lost ground could be easily if ever recovered,” said Minister Smith.

He also said that, as Ireland accounts for little more than 1% of EU output, the market was vulnerable to imports.

In 2005, Irish poultry was worth Euro144m (£97m) farm gate value with exports of 95,642t at Euro257 (£74m), 3.9% up on the previous year. In the same year, eggs were worth Euro35m (£24m) at the farm gate and production is split into 65% cage, 31% free range, 3% barn and 1% organic.