Supermarkets should put an end to the “farcical situation” whereby they insist that the poultry they sell must not have been fed GM crops.

Addressing the recent Poultry Meat Conference at Stoneleigh, chief executive of the British Poultry Council, Peter Bradnock described the policy as “the great hypocrisy”.

For while they insisted on GM-free feed for fresh poultry, the supermarkets did not make the same demand for poultry products, “presumably to facilitate imports”, he said. And neither did they worry about the use of EU-approved GM feeds for other livestock products like milk and beef sold in their stores.

Mr Bradnock explained that the whole GM-free poultry issue had arisen because one major integrator had decided to use it as a unique selling point. Since then, supermarkets had made it a general requirement. “It has become a millstone round our necks,” he said.

“It is becoming an increasing struggle to maintain the separation between GM and non-GM soya,” said Mr Bradnock. For, while the north of Brazil was supposedly GM-free, the rest was not and the area of non-GM cultivation was shrinking fast.

This was putting up the cost of production and potentially jeopardising the food supply.

The other big concern was the cost of feed, following this summer’s “sudden and massive” hike in the world wheat price. Chicago futures had jumped 43% since the start of July and the MATIF futures market in Paris by 60%.

Mr Bradnock’s message to producers, however, was not to panic. While the global wheat crop was down about 5% and demand for bioethanol was higher, stocks were still favourable. The fundamentals for soya were also quite good, with ample supplies.

But poultry feed was certainly more expensive and this was impacting on margins. It was therefore essential that producers be reimbursed.

This message was emphasised by James Hook of hatchery business, P D Hook. “We’ve got to work together to push these cost increases through,” he said. “To the consumer, it only amounts to about 20p on the price of a whole chicken and won’t make any difference. But for us in the industry it amounts to tens of thousands of pounds.”