UK - Ahead of the general election in May, political parties have committed government support to the poultry industry.
In early March 2015, the British Poultry Council and Elanco, the global animal health company, hosted a poultry industry hustings event in London, in advance of the 2015 General Election.
The participants were George Eustice MP (Conservative - Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for farming, food and marine environment), Huw Irranca-Davies MP (Labour -Shadow Minister Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) and Roger Williams MP (Liberal Democrat – Member of the EFRA Select Committee).
The Husting’s event was moderated by Julia Glotz, Managing Editor of The Grocer magazine, and the audience made up of senior representatives of the UK poultry industry.
The hustings focused on four key issues: food security, government, specific poultry industry priorities and science and innovation.
All participants were united in their view that food security would be based around a strong UK production base. It would no longer be sufficient for the UK to rely on its relative wealth to secure supplies.
George Eustice focused on the importance of open markets and global trade as an adjunct to UK supply.
This was echoed by Huw Irranca-Davies who saw that a diversity of supply sources would build resilience into the UK supply of food.
Roger Williams further noted that the acceptance of poultry raised on genetically modified (GM) feed by most UK supermarkets was a further support to UK food security.
Roger Williams stated that the Liberal Democrats would issue a separate manifesto for the food and farming sectors.
Huw Irranca-Davies stated that Labour would both retain food as a core part of their Industrial Strategy and revisit the Food 2030 Strategy published when they were in Government.
The Conservatives were focused on growing the UK food and farming sector, including poultry meat and aimed to reduce regulatory burdens and increase export opportunities.
All the participants noted that Government austerity was here to stay and that DEFRA’s budget would be cut, whichever party was in power after 7 May.
For Huw Irranca-Davies, Labour was going through the budget “line by line” and tough choices would have to be made in future as the process of cutting across the board had reached its limits.
Roger Williams noted that the Liberal Democrats had “safeguarded the science budget”.
George Eustice added that the Conservatives had protected the resources of Government vets and aimed to support the poultry industry to grow.
Considering the future of the Food Standards Agency (FSA), all three participants felt that it should remain an arms’ length body, and were committed to the food crime unit.
However, Labour is actively considering returning some of the FSA’s previous responsibilities, such as labelling, food governance and international trade.
George Eustice believed the split of responsibilities remained the right approach, as labelling needed to be within a Ministerial department.
For Roger Williams, it was important that the Food Crime Unit had real teeth, so as to prevent a repeat of the horsemeat scandal.
There was some divergence in the positions adopted on European policy and its impact on the food industry.
For George Eustice, the preferred outcome of a renegotiation would be “just a single market and customs union” and for the UK to be able to “pick and mix” other elements.
Huw Irranca-Davies acknowledged the frustrations with current EU policies, but believed strongly that Britain was better off “being inside the club and writing the rules”.
For Roger Williams, the access to the single market was the most important element, and the UK needed to be better at forging relationships with other EU countries.
Science and Innovation
All three parties recognised the importance of utilising technology to help the industry grow and compete in an ever expanding global food market.
George Eustice commented on the Agri-Tech Strategy and ambitions to increase competitiveness. He noted the importance of new husbandry technology, welfare science and genetics to maximise production efficiencies and the continued use of science for the maximising processing capabilities.
Huw Irranca-Davies highlighted their intention for a scientific ‘referee’ to balance the social sciences and public concerns.
Roger Williams commented on their science led philosophy, support for genetically modified foods and their intention to safe-guard the science budget.
All participants recognised the importance of a rapid reaction to the recent avian influenza outbreak.
George Eustice confirmed that the Government was considering changes to the compensation scheme in the aftermath of the 2014 -2015 outbreak.
For Huw Irranca-Davies, both the timeliness and funding of the secondary cleaning and disinfection needed to be reviewed.
Roger Williams considered that ultimately DEFRA should have a reserve power to force such a clean-up.
George Eustice recognised the importance of international trade to the UK poultry industry. UK demand is for white meat and UK dark meat needs export markets. In his view, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) could and should be made to work for the UK poultry sector.
Roger Williams noted that he had led a debate on TTIP and the poultry industry in the House of Commons and that politicians now understood the risks posed by the difference in standards between the EU and US.
Huw Irranca-Davies stated that TTIP must not lead to a drop in standards and that the US was a tough negotiator, which put the onus on the EU side to remain robust in the discussions.
Unfortunately, George Eustice had to leave the Hustings before the question on Campylobacter could be asked.
For Roger Williams, better education in kitchen hygiene in schools would help in reducing all levels of foodborne illness. Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats committed to continuing the joint working currently undertaken by the Acting on Campylobacter Together initiative under the auspices of the FSA.
Speaking after the hustings had closed, Andrew Large, Chief Executive of the British Poultry Council said: “This has been a fantastic event. I am very grateful to all three participants for their candour in answering the poultry industry’s questions. It is clear that all respondents have a high opinion of the UK poultry sector and its importance in ensuring the UK’s food security in the years to come.”
Elanco’s Head of Poultry, Jerry Glover, commented: “This event importantly drew together leaders in the food industry, with agricultural policy decision makers. And, what is more, it provided a timely opportunity to highlight industry priorities, including the importance of science and innovation to the future of the UK poultry sector.”ThePoultrySite News Desk
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