Free-range Chicken Production in North-east Scotland under Threat

SCOTLAND, UK - Contracts have been terminated between all four free range broiler producers and Hook 2 Sisters, the leading poultry processor in Scotland.
calendar icon 3 September 2014
clock icon 4 minute read

This latest announcement follows the termination by Hook 2 Sisters of several growers’ contracts in November 2013, and a further four terminations in August 2014. As a result, the number of independent chicken producers in Scotland has fallen from 28 to 16 and the number of chickens produced in Scotland will fall by an estimated seven million birds per year.

The farmers union, NFU Scotland, says three restructurings have not only devastated Scottish chicken production but have put some 72 jobs in the rural North East of Scotland at risk including farm workers, catchers and cleaners who all work on the affected farms.

The loss of chicken production has also taken away a valuable and sizeable market for those providing the sector with feed, estimated at 35,000 tonnes.

Without a significant turnaround in sourcing policy and the creation of new processing facilities in Scotland, NFU Scotland says, the production of 1.3 million free-range birds in Scotland will come to an end by the end of September. This will devastate growers, their suppliers and hauliers, and reduce the choices available to Scottish consumers.

Coming just a few months after a major retailer made a commitment to sell a full range of Scottish chicken, this latest news appears to have torpedoed the ability of many retailers to sell free-range Scottish chicken in their Scottish stores. The Union believes Aldi will be left as the only retailer sourcing Scottish free-range chicken, thanks to a deal in June this year with three growers. That supply chain may come under threat as the parent stock of day old chicks supplying these farms is being discontinued.

At present, organic chicken production in Scotland will continue.

In the wake of the threatened rationalisation in November 2013, the Scottish Government produced a poultry plan to maintain the critical mass of the sector and to develop infrastructure and markets to safeguard future production, according to NFU Scotland. Unfortunately, six months later, no significant investment has been made to create a sustainable chicken processing hub and the sector is staring into an abyss.

Reacting to the news, NFU Scotland’s President Nigel Miller commented: "Less than three months ago, Hook 2 Sisters assured us and their growers that a level of stability had been achieved and that the future of the sector was good provided that a cutting plant was built and integrated with the operations at Coupar Angus. The contract terminations in August and this month tell an entirely different story.

"Hook 2 Sisters vision was mirrored by the Scottish Government’s poultry plan and the initial feasibility studies which were commissioned. This process appears to have stalled at company and government level, and it is now vital we breathe new life into this process. Failure to do so will see Scotland’s ambitions to be a significant chicken producing nation not only slip away but we may be left with little, if any, chicken production in Scotland.

"Hook 2 Sisters must now be entirely open with their growers if anyone is to have confidence and be willing to invest. At the same time, the Scottish Government must be proactive in supporting crucial processing capacity.

"Research shows that 93 per cent of Scottish shoppers think it is important that Scottish poultry is available in Scottish shops. As this situation unfolds, it begins to look like this will become extremely difficult, if not impossible to achieve.

"One year ago there were 28 independent growers in Scotland. There are now 16, 12 of whom supply Hook 2 Sisters. This is a loss of nearly seven million birds per year. At a time when the UK retail poultry market is predicted to grow 26 per cent over the next five years, from £4.6 billion to £5.8 billion, it is unthinkable that the Scottish industry should miss out on this fantastic opportunity," Mr Miller said.

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