NFU Scotland is calling for the Competition and Markets Authority to investigate the Scottish poultry market, following further forced cutbacks in production.
The move was prompted by the impending closure of eight more company farms by Hook 2 Sisters in the Scottish borders, on top of the four contract growers and four free-range producers in the north-east who were put on notice in August and early September.
The latest closures affect six farms in Earlston, one in Coldstream and one in Kelso. They have been put on 90 days’ notice and about 20 jobs could go.
According to NFUS, Scottish consumers now face the prospect of being unable to buy Scottish chicken in their local supermarkets. “Without urgent action, the Scottish government’s own Poultry Plan, produced in December 2013, will be redundant,” it added.
The number of independent chicken producers in Scotland has fallen from 28 to 12 since last December, says the union – equivalent to a loss of 135,000 birds a week.
There is also speculation that the recent closure by PD Hook of its Inverurie hatchery may now see Scottish organic growers struggle to source chicks.
“Scotland’s chicken growers have reached a crisis point,” said NFUS president Nigel Millar. “The events of the past few months will see production virtually cease around the north-east with very much a small island of activity left around Angus.”
Up until now, NFUS has campaigned for a cutting plant in Scotland, to widen the market opportunities for Scottish chicken.
But that is taking a back seat. Instead, the union has contacted the Competition and Markets Authority (formerly the Office of Fair Trading) to make as case for the Scottish chicken market to be investigated.
“The Union does not believe that what it is seeing in Scotland represents the normal functioning of market forces,” said a statement. “The loss of vital infrastructure is an immediate concern, limiting future options and possibilities for the industry.”
But 2 Sisters insists the closures are needed to deal with a structural surplus of chicken. “Our current operating environment has remained unsustainable for some time,” said a spokesman.
“We have to consolidate our production base in order to secure the longer-term future of the poultry industry in Scotland.”
NFUS, however, maintains that the retail poultry market is poised for 26% growth in the next five years. There is strong consumer demand for Scottish-branded chicken and a potential market for 1.4 million chickens a week, (compared with current throughput of 800,000).
“The demand is there for quality Scottish chicken and we have the growers willing and able to meet this demand,” said Mr Millar.
“It is a disgrace that we could be heading towards a situation where there might be little or no chicken produced within Scotland.”