Producers cry foul over double standards for poultry welfare

UK - A generation ago chicken was a luxury in the average Scottish diet, but times have changed. It is now the least expensive meat that consumers can purchase in their supermarket.

However, according to NFU Scotland, it comes at a price in terms of welfare standards and the cost of production, which is increasingly open to question. Imports from Brazil into the UK have soared in the last year. Official statistics from Customs & Excise confirm that imports now amount to 385,00 tonnes. The Brazilian share of that market has almost trebled in three years.

A similar trend has also been evident from south-east Asia, a region now fuelling concerns about the possibility of avian influenza making the jump from poultry to the human population. Health authorities and expert scientists are warning the government that a pandemic has the potential to kill millions.

Lax import controls and lower production standards represent a major threat, according to Michael Darrah, of NFU Scotland. Speaking in Edinburgh, he articulated the prevailing mood among the small, but hugely important, Scottish poultry industry.

Darrah said: "We are rightly proud of our record on animal welfare and environment protection in Scotland. It is galling to hear calls for even stricter regulation in this country, some of it on questionable scientific grounds, when we continue to import poultry products from systems that would definitely be deemed illegal here. That may be free trade but it is certainly not fair trade."

Darrah could have strengthened that argument by saying that while feed costs have dipped substantially in the last year, due to lower grain and protein prices, the wholesale value of poultry has increased significantly. Broiler chickens on the Smithfield market in London are selling at close on 20% higher than 12 months ago.

The bottom line, according to a survey by the Meat & Livestock Commission, is that feed prices, essentially wheat, barley and soya, are now at least 25% lower than at this date in 2004. Supermarket margins have increased accordingly.

However, welfare and the risk of disease remains the number one threat, according to Darrah. He said: "The way things are going, the EU Commission could shoot itself in the foot. Producers are struggling to bear the costs of current regulation and any more red tape could drive producers out of the market.

Source: The Herald
calendar icon 18 March 2005
clock icon 1 minute read
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