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Farming Union warns of disappearance of chicken from retail shelves

By David Porter

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NFU Scotland’s Poultry Working Group is calling on the UK Government to extend its examination of food supply chains to poultry meat as the threat of empty shelves increases.

The severe lack of profitability in producing chicken has seen a sharp reduction in the number of birds being reared in the UK with retailer resistance to paying a fair price for chicken driving the decline in home production.

Failure of retailers to deliver a fair price in the future will further undermine the nation’s fragile food security position and leave the UK more exposed to imported chicken.

The gravity of the situation was discussed at the Union’s Poultry Working Group meeting this week.

Poultry Working Group Chair Robert Thompson
Poultry Working Group Chair Robert Thompson

Poultry Working Group Chair Robert Thompson said: “While the UK Government has already announced an investigation into eggs, where failure of the retailers to pay a fair price saw production fall and empty shelves appear, a similar investigation is urgently required for poultrymeat as a similar picture is rapidly emerging.

“So far Scotland has not cut back on the numbers of birds being reared but at a UK level, numbers are significantly down.

"Some units in England are sitting empty and with the growing market uncertainty, some are moving processors to try and get a better deal.

“That must be a huge concern to the UK Government as chicken is a success story for the UK.

"Poultry meat is still one of the cheapest sources of protein, versatile and nutritious and is incredibly popular.

"Our growing standards are the highest in Europe.

"Growers have had to be extremely efficient and adopt all new technology available.

“Fifty years ago, chicken was seen as a luxury but now is an ever day essential.

"Unfortunately, chicken is now cheaper per kilogram than it was in the 1970s and that is unsustainable.

“Retailers have left rearers and processors on very tight margins for some time, but the situation grows worse.

"Chicken feed prices may have eased from the extreme highs seen last year but all the utilities and operation costs have soared, and the UK Government has failed to offer chicken producers the highest level of relief available on energy costs despite repeated requests.

“Scotland’s production has already changed significantly.

"We have only one major chicken processing site and chicken production in Scotland has fallen from a peak of four million chickens per week in the mid-1980s to less than one million per week now.

“Retailers need to step up to the mark and deliver a fair share of profitability to all parts of the chain.

"A price increase back to the farmgate of around 20p per kilogram is needed now or empty shelves will become a reality.

“Retailers failed to take heed when we warned them about egg shortages.

"They have an opportunity to avoid repeating that mistake by delivering a fair price on chicken back to farmers.”

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