British poultry highlighted in Parliament debate

The importance of the UK poultry industry and its role post-Brexit was discussed in a Parliamentary debate earlier this week. 

Speaking after the Brexit Bill was passed in both Houses, Ian Paisley of the Democratic Unionist Party and a member of the British Veterinary Association, put forward how much the industry generates for the country and called for challenges to the sector to be addressed as Great Britain prepares to leave the European Union.

“The poultry meat industry supported £4.6 billion of gross value-added contribution to gross domestic product, which is the equivalent of 0.2% of the United Kingdom’s entire economic output.

“For every £1m of economic activity that the industry generates, it supports a further £1.33m elsewhere. In total direct and indirect employment, it supports 84,500 people throughout the entire United Kingdom, or 0.3% of the total UK workforce. The industry directly employs 37,300 people, and it supported £1.1bn in tax contributions in 2014, or 0.2% of all tax receipts collected that year. If I were to say it is an important industry, I would be a master of understatement.”

Paisley said the poultry industry labour force, especially the 60% that are not from the UK will require “certainty about their contracts”.

He called for a UK food and farming policy that “backs UK food security and increases the self-sufficiency of the poultry meat sector”, and for a solution to the fact that UK wholesale chicken prices may rise, leading to competition difficulties for British businesses. He also urged further engagement with both North and South America.

In response, Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs minister George Eustice said: “Our aim for the future is to get the best possible trading relationship with the EU and the rest of the world. High-quality poultry and eggs are key components of many of the UK’s most famous brands and value-added exports. We already export our world-class produce around the world, with UK exports of poultry meat totalling £250m in 2016. Obviously, there has been a setback more recently with the outbreak of avian influenza, but we do want to build on our success. Action is under way to promote UK food and drink overseas, break down trade barriers and open up new international markets.”

Commenting on the debate, British Poultry Council (BPC) chief executive Richard Griffiths, said: “We are delighted that poultry meat is being recognised as an essential sector in British food production, and that how to back British poultry farmers is being debated at the highest levels. For the poultry meat sector, Brexit means a strong ‘British’ brand, with standards and values that are reflected in the best deal possible on access to labour and on trade. Put bluntly, without these two elements safeguarded, the British poultry meat sector will not exist to feed the nation and British food security will be compromised.”

The BPC also put forward some proposals that it feels may help poultry producers during the exit process.

They are:
• Reinstatement of Tier 3 immigration status (or similar) as part of a simplified working-visa system that brings long-term migrant labour into specific jobs: 60% of our 37,700 direct employees are non-UK workers, and the British poultry meat sector will need to fill around 6,000 roles every year
• A UK Food & Farming Policy with support for promotion of UK food and farming at school level, and a greater focus on apprenticeships that will encourage UK labour into the sector
• A UK Food & Farming Policy that puts British food at the centre of public food procurement
• Common regulatory equivalence of outcomes that facilitates trade with EU countries and minimises the cost of trade, including the import of feed: 75% of our imports and exports are with EU member states, worth approximately £2bn annually
• Dedicated government support in opening third-country markets to trade, supported by a strong ‘British’ food brand
• Government support for British Food & Farming through focusing available support on infrastructure and regeneration of rural areas
• A UK Food & Farming Policy that backs UK food security and increases self-sufficiency: poultry meat is the only sector that could scale-up quickly to meet food security demands.

Griffiths added: “The BPC and its members are absolutely committed to working with government to find a solution to labour and trade issues, and striving for the best possible deal on leaving the EU. We are an important part of British food production and we will continue to be so.”

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