Poultry under pressure

British poultry producers are facing increasing pressure from imports, as GM-free feed becomes scarcer and more expensive.

The UK sources most of its GM-free soya from Brazil, where harvests of GM-free varieties are expected to drop from 40% to 20% of the country's total soya production next year.

Decreasing availability has led to sourcing difficulties, with only one of the major soya importers able to guarantee GM-free supplies until next April. The premium for non-GM soya is currently around £30/t over GM varieties and this premium is expected to rise as stocks become more scarce.

NFU poultry board chairman Charles Bourns has described the feed shortage as "the biggest issue faced by poultry producers today", and urged producers and retailers to seriously reconsider the poultry industry's GM-free status.

"It will take the whole industry to decide on a certain day that we will start feeding GM soya," he said. "If we don't take a proactive view now, it might happen by default, when stocks of GM-free feed run out."

Although some retailers admit there is a problem, none are willing to take the lead and risk consumer objection. "They have said it is up to the industry to make a decision, but they will not stand behind us if there is a consumer backlash," said Bourns, who claims that supermarkets are importing more and more birds from Eastern Europe, because they are concerned about price and supply in the UK.

"We are under increasing pressure from cheaper imports, but I am confident that I could compete with European producers if I was allowed to use GM feed," he said. "The ridiculous thing is that birds imported from Eastern Europe are fed on GM feed anyway - it is quite clear that no-one else is using GM-free soya in Europe."

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