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Farm leaders have called for a poultry meat supply chain inquiry after Defra announced an review aimed at ensuring a fairer market for the... Poultry producers pile on pressure for egg sector inquiry

Farm leaders have called for a poultry meat supply chain inquiry after Defra announced an review aimed at ensuring a fairer market for the egg sector.

The NFU said a Defra investigation should also be launched into the broiler sector because poultry producers face similar challenges to egg producers when dealing x meat processors and retailers.

Focused on ending unfair practices in the egg supply chain, the egg sector review was launched earlier this autumn. Producers are being invited to make submissions on transparency, clarity of contractual terms and conditions, and supply chain data.

Issues include whether contractual arrangements within the sector currently function correctly – and whether further legislation is needed to oversee the relationship between producers.

Retail reluctance

Defra said the views of egg producers, packers, processors, retailers and other stakeholders involved in the egg supply chain would be considered as part of the review which runs until 22 December.

Egg producers have experienced a series of challenges in recent years – including soaring energy and feed costs. But some retailers have proved reluctant to increase UK egg prices, preferring to import supplies from countries like Poland and Italy.

The government acknowledges that creating fairer supply chains will help to ensure UK producers can operate with greater confidence while protecting consumer choice and access to high-welfare British eggs.

Robert Gooch, chief executive of the British Free Range Egg Producers Association said: “Consultation on the workings of the egg supply chain is needed to provide further stability for the sector and to ensure that there is no repeat of egg shortages.”

Other sectors

Similar work is already underway to improve fairness in the pork, dairy and horticulture supply chains. But NFU president Minette Batters said told Defra farm minister Mark Spencer that an inquiry should also be launched into the broiler sector.

Speaking at last month’s Egg & Poultry Industry Conference, Ms Batters said poultry producers were being treated as “poor relations”. She added: “We need the minister to commit to the same review for the broiler sector.”

Many producers were locked into energy contracts that meant they were getting poor returns for their poultry meat. The NFU’s farmer confidence survey showed it was at an all time low, added Ms Batters. “Short term confidence levels are down 34%.”

Mr Spencer said the review would help ensure fairness. “It is critical to highlight unfair practices,” he said. “We want transparency and fairness. Defra is committed to supporting the egg and poultry sectors.”

Market is failing farmers, say industry leaders

High production costs are not being recovered in the marketplace, say poultry producers –jeopardising food security, business viability and economic growth.

“Without a fair market price that prioritises the value of supply for both producers and consumers, it is only a matter of time before British poultry sees empty shelves of our own during this cost-of-living crisis,” says Richard Griffiths, of the British Poultry Council.

Mr Griffiths says it is the government’s responsibility to ensure mechanisms are in place to support business viability. The government’s own buying practices should ensure safe, affordable, nutritious British poultry meat is widely available, he says.

‘Price trumps supply’

“As a society, we should be promoting British food and the quality it represents into our care homes, schools and hospitals with a view to investing in public procurement as a driver for a food system based on fair returns.

“Unfortunately, price trumps supply and instead of setting a good example for the broader marketplace, we have a bad example that is driving British food producers out of business.”

Farmers find themselves in an ever more hostile operating environment, says Mr Griffiths. “We need measures that prioritise supply, support producers, feed the nation, and ensure the marketplace respects the true cost of food.

“Otherwise, it is only a matter of time before we see British poultry meat producers undercut by cheaper imports, shrinking domestic production, and pricing consumers out of British food and the quality it represents at a time it matters most.”