Welfare demands could realign to middle ground

Welfare requirements for egg production will in time realign to the middle ground, delegates attending the International Egg Commission Spring conference in London have been told.

Just over 200 delegates attended proceedings with 30 egg producing countries represented such as the USA, China, Australia, Mexico and delegates from across the EU-27 member states.

Beginning proceedings Prof David Hughes of Imperial College, London, discussed where money is being made in the grocery sector and how a power shift in the global food industry was squeezing producers.

“At one end power is moving towards owners of genetic rights, that could be breeding companies, then at the other end you got the major international retailers who own the routes to consumers and shoppers,” he said.

“Everyone else gets the squeezed unless they’ve got something that’s proprietary to them that people value and food manufacturers have got something called ‘brands’ which are very valuable.”

“The real challenge in the commodity industry is how to get special value when we haven’t got intellectual property that’s valuable.”

On production methods Prof Hughes said he believed there would come a day when world egg production would realign to a middle ground in terms of welfare.

“We don’t have enough space for all-singing and all-dancing organic animal welfare but there is a middle ground that is rational,” he said.

Along with the variety of marketing, production and trade sessions attendees heard about the increasing importance of corporate social responsibility (CSR) to the industry and how the IEC is working with farmers to establish a global framework for the industry.

IEC chairman Joanne Ivy told delegates that the “Farmers Care” statement adopted last year would be the basis of the CSR strategy of the organisation.

“Farmers care about producing the highest quality safest product; they care about their environment, providing choice, the welfare of their hens and feeding our growing populations,” she said.

Rudd Zanders from Rondeel also introduced delegates to the Roundel System of egg production being pioneered in The Netherlands, which is creating almost a new category in egg production.

Not quite barn and not quite free-range the system involves circular units which allow hens access to the outside while remaining in an enclosed space.

This was a reaction to losses in The Netherlands from AI and has received the highest approval from all the nation’s animal welfare organisations. Plans are to build five more of the 30,000-bird units in The Netherlands before 2012 and one unit outside, possibly in Belgium or Holland.

CEO of the largest pork producer in the UK, Danish owned Tulip, Steve Murrells emphasised five key points in keeping retailers on side, flexibility of supply, speed of response, innovation, competitiveness and partnerships.

Rabobank analyst Nan-Dirk Mulder outlined how competition for land will affect production of feed grains as well as how egg consumption will sky-rocket in developing nations such as China.

In the next two decades 40% of growth in egg production will be in China with the next largest coming from India (11%), Indonesia (6%) and the Ukraine (4%) but to reach this there will need to be a 30% increase in yields globally.

Mr Mulder said 180m hectares of unused arable land could help meet this increase, with the majority of it in Brazil (54%), the former Soviet Union (21%), the USA (11%) and the EU (11%).

Finally, Dr Michael MacLeod from the Food and Agriculture Office of the UN and Dr Adrian Williams from Cranfield University presented on the greenhouse gas emissions which come from the production of eggs.

Mr MacLeod said preliminary figures from his studies indicated eggs produced only 0.5% of humans greenhouse gas emissions, compared with 4.4% for beef and 2% for milk.

Dr Williams found eggs compared well with around 3kg of CO2 or equivalent gas emissions per 100g of edible protein. This contrasts with about 10kg of CO2 for beef or lamb.