"Unfair competition from cheaper imports is already seriously hurting the UK poultry sector," said the British Poultry Council (BPC)'s retiring chairman John Maunder at the recent BPC agm. "I ask you (Lord Whitty, UK minister for food, farming and sustainable energy,) not to make it worse by imposition of even greater regulation, charges and levies on our members in the name of sustainability.
"Rather it is necessary that you act urgently to prevent an excessive administrative burden and disproportionate compliance costs which the Environment Agency's interpretation of the IPPC is placing on existing UK poultry farmers."
Maunder warned that while producers and processors in the United Kingdom were meeting targets over environmental issues of reducing energy consumption and pollution, the government was making the targets even more severe.
"Poultry farmers and processing companies are members of two BPC Climate Change Agreements with DEFRA to reduce energy consumption by agreed targets by 2010," he said. "In the first two-year milestone of these agreements, farmers had reduced energy use by more than five times the milestone target figure."
However, a very good performance in the first two years of this ten-year target does not mean that the rate of energy reduction can be kept up in subsequent milestones. DEFRA's proposal to review the overall farms target upwards from 14 per cent to 30 per cent on the basis of this one milestone result is not logical."
He added that while UK poultry and pig production and UK food manufacturing companies are subject to very rigorous environmental protection requirements, there are no such requirements on the 120,000 tons of poultry meat imported from third countries sold alongside UK poultry meat. This was resulting in unfair competition from cheaper imports.
"We are and have always been driven by the needs of the consumer. We operate in a market which is globally supplied and we have to be ever more efficient to stay in this market against less regulated competition from Thailand, Brazil and elsewhere."
At the BPC meeting, Lord Whitty admitted that regulations regarding animal welfare and the environment have so far been a success. "I am pleased that 1,300 facilities in the farming and processing sectors have signed up to the Climate Change Agreement scheme," he said. "The farm sector greatly exceeded their first target, and the processing sector exceeded their target by over 50 per cent."
However, he warned that the industry would have to continue to pay its way in meeting energy consumption regulations. " Other industries have become accustomed to the polluter pays principle - though they don't necessarily like it - and agriculture will have to get used to it too. We expect to continue the introduction of charges for regulation and enforcement gradually across all areas as part of the general trend towards ensuring that all industries bear their true costs."
The UK's poultry industry has increasingly been squeezed by both cheaper imports and tighter margins. In February, the National Farmers Union said that the price paid to British farmers for chicken needs to increase by 8p a kilogramme if the industry was to survive.
Poultry producers are getting an average of 2p less than the cost of production because of a price war between retailers and caterers, with the result that many have decided to leave their chicken sheds empty.
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 has also added 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.