Highlights from British Poultry Council conference

The environment was the central theme at the British Poultry Council (BPC) annual conference and lunch, held in London on Tuesday (1 May).  Topics ranged from carbon labelling to IPPC and, of course, climate change.  Poultry World dishes up the highlights from this event. 

Producers and industry leaders spoke out on the difficulties in reconciling differences between environment and animal welfare policies in a heated food labelling debate, after DEFRA’s head of Food Chain Programme, Brian Harding, announced that the department had embarked on a round of discussions to see how to take carbon labelling forward. 

With the environment sitting at the forefront of DEFRA’s agenda, Mr Harding added that he was ready to address these issues with the industry.  But attendees at the conference were not supportive of environment labels, including BPC chairman, Ted Wright, who commented: “The bad news is that we’re going to have to put even more labels on packages.”

And Peter Bradnock, BPC chief executive, questioned which issue would win in the battle of labels in the consumer’s mind – welfare or environment?  Mr Harding responded: “The driver is EU requirements and it can’t be ignored.” 

Judy Goodman, chairman of the British Goose Producers, argued that the poultry sector should stay away from environment labels as consumers did not need the information, compared with fruit that had travelled from afar such as pineapples.  “What we want is British food for British people at a sensible price for producers,” she stated.

But James Northen, head of Policy Initiatives at the Institute of Grocery Distribution (IGD), challenged this assertion.  He told attendees: “Environment is shooting up the consumer agenda.  Welfare is a given so consumers stop thinking about it.  The environment is new but this doesn’t mean that welfare has gone away.”
According to IGD research, environment, recycling and fair-trade are the top three most important ethical problems for consumers.  With animal welfare, free-range, and organic taking the bottom three places respectively.  
Mr Harding rounded up the discussion by stating: “A low carbon economy isn’t going to happen over night.  It’s a long way down the track.  But you need to be alert that it is where we’re heading.  I don’t have any easy answers.  It’s a long-term issue but we need to work collectively to avoid the decimation of our industry to products imported from overseas.”

But he added: “I don’t think that consumers’ best interest will be served by a plethora of labelling with different methodology.  It won’t be understood by consumers.  Without an enormous amount of effort with consumer education these numbers won’t mean anything.”

The UK poultry industry only produces 0.24m tonnes of carbon dioxide (equivalent) out of the total 8m tonnes produced by the livestock sector, positioning it as one of the most sustainable means of meat production.

But DEFRA’s head of Food Chain Programme, Brian Harding, stated that despite poultry production being notably lighter than other sectors, there could be no room for complacency with climate change.

The estimated carbon footprint of poultry for primary production currently stands at 5kg carbon dioxide (equivalent) per 1kg of poultry meat carcass up to the factory gate, according to Donal Murphy-Bokern, of Murphy-Bokern Agriculture.

Ted Wright, BPC chairman, said: “Indoor poultry farming uses finite natural resources efficiently, it produces low levels of pollution, its litter is used for electricity generation and it has substantially less global warming potential than the extensive livestock sectors.

“Poultry farmers and processors are joined up to the BPC Climate Change Agreement with DEFRA and have, so far, reduced energy use by many times the targets set.  Our sector is already the most environmentally sustainable of all livestock sectors, and should qualify for the gold standard under any proposed environmental labelling of food.”

Lord Rooker, junior DEFRA minister, admitted that he “let the team down” with the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) fees. 

Speaking at the BPC conference, he told attendees that dealing with the Single Farm Payment had occupied 75% of his time and became his “top priority”.

“I let the team down.  I should have picked up on it in the summer.  But it did come to me very late in the day.  Most companies are members of umpteen schemes.  We can’t say we’re against gold plating and then agree to gold plate.  We want our industry to progress,” he said.

Lord Rooker also added that farmers are the vanguards for climate change.

“Virtually every government policy for climate change requires those that work and own the land becoming the vanguards for implementing all of the policies.  Therefore the farming industry is much more important now than it ever was for simply delivering food on our plates,” he told attendees.