Review of the Year: Ten of 2015's Biggest Poultry News Stories

CHRISTMAS SPECIAL - An editor's selection box of some of this year's news stories that have had the biggest impact on poultry production and trade around the world.
calendar icon 31 December 2015
clock icon 6 minute read

1. Highly pathogenic avian influenza devastated American poultry producers

This year's biggest story was the outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza which spread around the US in spring. More than 48 million birds were culled as a result of the outbreaks, ranking this as the worst animal disease disaster ever experienced in the US. Fears were raised by scientists that as wild birds migrated south in autumn, further outbreaks could be spread, but all stakeholders were keen to learn lessons from the outbreaks, and no new virus findings have been reported in commercial poultry since 17 June 2015.

2. West African countries continue to suffer from avian flu outbreaks

Ghana, Nigeria and Burkina Faso were the main countries affected by ongoing outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza around the West African region. The FAO reported that the timing of the outbreaks made it difficult for many countries to respond, as they were still recovering from the impact of Ebola. Organisations worked in the region to prevent further spread around Africa.

3. Many other countries were also hit by avian flu

Visit our bird flu page for all our bird flu updates. New outbreaks are still taking place all over the world, most recently in France and Germany. We also reported on outbreaks in the UK this year, but these seemed to be well contained and separate incidents, and biosecurity measures seemed to work.

4. Poultry trade dispute between the US and South Africa

This year, a dispute over exports of poultry meat to South Africa from the US came to a head. The two countries agreed on a quota of poultry meat to be accepted by South Africa in Paris in June. However, the quota was slow to be implemented, and President Obama eventually said that unless South Africa removed barriers to trade, its export benefits to the US under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) would be removed early in 2016. This prompted South Africa to sort out animal health differences between the countries in November, and poultry exports should soon restart.

5. The zero antibiotics trend

Consumer mood this year was marked by an aversion to antibiotics used in meat production. The US reached the decision to bring antibiotics under greater control, to halt their use in growth promotion and ensure they are only used under veterinary supervision, bringing regulations into line with Europe. Regulators hope this will reduce the incidence of antibiotic-resistant pathogens. But faced with consumer interest in the matter, some companies such as Perdue Farms and Subway went further and announced they would be using 'zero antibiotics' in production of certain meats in future. Agriculture organisations and academics pointed out this could have impacts on animal welfare, and it will be interesting to see how consumers feel about this issue in the coming year.

6. Companies going cage-free

Many companies in North America also announced this year that they would be ending the use of eggs from caged hens, which also helps improve the image of food brands with consumers. Welfare organisation Compassion in World Farming said that just one move to cage-free, by McDonald's US and Canada, would improve the lives of over seven million hens annually. Latest figures reveal that there are now 23.6 million cage-free hens in the US - 8.6 per cent of the total. This has increased sharply since the previous steady figure of around six per cent as recently as March 2015.

7. One enormous trade agreement completed - another rumbles on

After years of negotiation, the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement was completed this year. Many Canadian poultry producers, as well as dairy farmers, were worried about how the TPP would affect their supply management system, where the government restricts imports of some agricultural products to ensure producers receive a good price. However, in the end, only some of the Canadian market was opened up to products from other countries, with Egg Farmers of Canada saying it was "cautiously optimistic" about the deal. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, another huge trade deal between the EU and US, is still under discussion, with agriculture a sticking point in these negotiations too.

8. One year on from Russian ban

The effects of the Russian embargo on agricultural produce from various Western countries continued to ripple around the world. The US managed record exports despite the ban, before being hit by avian flu-related trade restrictions, and the EU's poultry prospects remained strong. Russia increased its own production, whilst other countries benefited from the US' absence from the Russian market to improve their exports.

9. Food safety - campylobacter concerns continue

A recent report from EU food safety groups EFSA and ECDC found that campylobacter-related illness rates rose once again in 2014, continuing an upward trend that began in 2008, and campylobacteriosis remains the most commonly reported foodborne disease in the EU. In May it was revealed that nearly three quarters of UK chickens tested positive for the presence of campylobacter, and in September a market research firm suggested that this could threaten the growth of the UK poultry market. But in November, new figures showed significant progress from retailers on campylobacter contamination.

10. Different attitudes to beak trimming - UK and Germany

In November, the UK's farming minister George Eustice said that a proposed ban on beak trimming will not be introduced in the UK from January 2016. Current regulations on beak trimming in the UK say that infra-red technology can be used on day-old chicks, but hot blades cannot be used for beak trimming. A report into the matter said that current research suggests that implementing a ban could lead to serious poultry welfare issues, but that the country should work towards a ban on the practice in future. However, Germany announced this year that the poultry industry had committed to stopping beak trimming in the next few years, as part of its animal welfare initiative that also included measures to prevent killing of male layer chicks.

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