Why Brexit is shaping up to be a bad deal for Irish poultry producers

What are the likely effects of Brexit, hard or soft, on the Anglo-Irish poultry trade? To find out, we spoke to the chair of Ireland’s National Poultry Committee, Andy Boylan, who runs a chicken and beef enterprise in County Monaghan and has been in the poultry business for 30 years
calendar icon 3 April 2018
clock icon 5 minute read

By Eoin McCarthy

It might be that Brexit will have a minimal effect on the poultry business in Ireland, as the majority of broiler chickens are sold domestically with the majority of exports going to the European market. Despite this Andy Boylan, a chicken and beef farmer in County Monaghan, who was recently elected chair of the Irish Farmers’ Association’s National Poultry Committee, has his reservations about Brexit and its overall impact on Irish agriculture.

"I thought that the UK would stay within the customs union”

“In the broiler business, chickens are mainly sold on the home market but there are some exports,” he says. “Like anyone involved in farming we would be very concerned about Brexit.”

With the UK government announcing its commitment to leave the EU customs union and the single market on 5 February 2018, Boylan thinks Brexit has “moved a stage further away from us”.

“If they had gone for a longer withdrawal period,” he continues, “maybe some of the Brexiters might have been delayed or kept out of the way for a period of time, but there is no way this Brexit is going to finish well for Ireland.

“In Ireland, for every 20 legs we only use one and we export the remainder - and that is mainly to the French market. It’s a European trade, that one.”

Boylan hopes that the UK will stay within the EU customs union in a Norway-style arrangement. But Brexit hardliners appear to be utilising their influence within the UK government.

“I thought that the UK would stay within the customs union,” says Boylan, on the strength of how the UK’s negotiations with the EU had seemed to be shaping up before Christmas. “There was some hope that they might have stayed, even that they might have [adopted] the Norway model, or some other model. But that doesn’t appear to be the case; the hardliners appear to be pulling the strings in the British government at the moment.”

Boylan also has concerns regarding country-of-origin labelling. As the Irish Poultry Committee’s new chair, he sees strong legislation as necessary in making the origin of chicken meat and eggs more transparent to shoppers.

“Country-of-origin labelling introduced in 2015 has benefited the sector,” says Boylan, “but it must be enforced in a clear and transparent fashion. No secondary processor or retailer should be permitted to sell non-Irish poultry products under false guises, as the current IFA retail campaign has highlighted.”

He also draws attention to the way in which some retailers are abusing country-of-origin labelling especially in relation to loose white meat products: “We are supposed to have country-of-origin labelling, but particularly for loose meat products. When you go into your local shop, [with some] loose chicken fillets there is no label of origin on them. Some people are buying more Irish products nowadays; they are more concerned about the country-of-origin label, and for traceability purposes for their businesses”.

Although Ireland produces a lot of poultry, there is still a huge amount of poultry imported, particularly in white breast meat. Boylan raises serious questions regarding the quality and traceability of imported white meat and is calling for a more sustainable price for Irish poultry farmers.

"The biggest danger we face"

“We are importing loose chicken sold across the counter with no labelling whatsoever. Whole turkeys are also being imported and they would be sold in a similar way, with no proper labelling and packaging. There is legislation but it is not being adhered to properly,” he says.

“It is something that the IFA is working on and they would be anxious to meet with retailers to ensure that quality Republic of Ireland products are stocked and correctly labelled. We would like to see a more sustainable price passed back that’s part of our campaign to support Irish poultry products.”

Since a significant percentage of the chicken imported into Ireland comes from Brazil, Boylan is mindful of its quality and of the recent meat scandal there.

“There used to be a lot of imports from the far east but in recent times poultry comes from Brazil. That’s why we would have great concern for the MERCOSUR trade deal.

“There is a huge amount of coverage about red meat in the media [in relation to the MERCOSUR trade deal] but there would not be much coverage about the white-meat sector,” says Boylan.

Finally, Boylan highlights that avian bird flu remains a concern for the future.

“The biggest danger we face in the poultry business probably is that bird flu is threating us,” he says. “Avian flu is a great danger particularly to people operating in the free-range sector - both egg and chickens - as free-range flocks are outside and are more exposed to wildlife and so there is more of a danger for them.”

Ryan Johnson

Editor at The Poultry Site

Ryan worked in conservation from 2008 to 2017, during which time he operated a rainbow trout hatchery and helped to maintain public and protected green spaces in Canada for the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority. As editor of The Poultry Site, he now writes about challenges and opportunities in agriculture across the globe.

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