The number of chicks being reared on British farms fell by 1 million a week in January, a 7 per cent fall in total production. The union has called for a fair price for poultry producers, and a partnership throughout the supply chain that will share the risks as well as the benefits.
The Asian bird 'flu crisis is adding to the squeeze on European poultry producers. There is growing pressure on farmers to supply more quality assured chicken, at a time when prices are below the cost of production.
Speaking at an NFU press briefing on poultry issues yesterday, NFU president Sir Ben Gill said: "The NFU is committed to building supply chain relations to ensure greater understanding of the needs of the market.
"In return, the market beyond the farm gate needs to build greater awareness of the challenges that face farmers. Such an approach would improve efficiencies, as well as making the supply chain more transparent.
"We have asked that the rise in the cost of feed should be urgently reflected in the price paid to the grower (which accounts for 2/3 of production costs), to safeguard the supply of British quality chicken to the public."
The NFU is also sensitive to public perceptions of food safety due to the present bird 'flu crisis in South East Asia. There are fears that the crisis could have a negative impact on poultry meat sales across the board.
Keith Henderson, chairman of the NFU's North East poultry commodity board, believes that the European Commission had taken a sensible line in banning Thai chicken imports. "The Food Standards Agency has confirmed that the outbreak in the Far East does not pose a food safety risk for UK consumers, but until the situation in Thailand is better understood, a ban is the most sensible way forward," he said.
"Having said that, we are urging consumers to look out for British farm assured chicken, which carries the Little Red Tractor logo (LRT). This is produced to some 25 independently verified health and hygiene standards."