Chicken is the most popular meat with consumers as it is lean, easy to cook and very versatile, offering consumers the freedom to turn their chicken breasts into whatever they fancy for dinner. The future of chicken as we know it is reasonably stable as it appeals to all types of meat eater, and investments by some of the major chicken producers signifies the industry’s confidence in the future of poultry. Even recent negative news items about supermarket chicken supplied by 2 Sisters has not put consumers off, but may have lead them to purchase their chicken elsewhere.
Moy Park recently announced investment of £20 million in a new hatchery facility in Nottinghamshire. The Newark-on-Trent facility will hatch 2.5 million chicks a week, supplying 60 farms across Lincolnshire and has created 55 new jobs at the factory. The purpose built facility uses energy efficient equipment and automation to reduce their power consumption by 25%, a nod to the sustainability question that is clouding the meat industry at present. They have also introduced industry leading welfare and biosecurity standards to ensure their chicks are being hatched in the most environmentally responsible manner.
German poultry producer PHW has invested in the opposite direction, partnering with Israel based firm SuperMeat to develop lab grown chicken meat. The process uses cells from live chickens, which are then multiplied in a bio-reactor to create chicken meat. PHW becoming involved in this future of the poultry industry is slightly at odds with Moy Park’s investment in new facilities for the traditional poultry industry, but in both directions there is a need for live chickens, whether for the table themselves or for the development and extraction of cells.
Brexit, as ever, is a major factor in the future of the UK and European poultry industry and some figures are looking at the potential for growth in the sector as the industry will need to realign itself with changing consumer demands. Sustainability and efficiency are two areas that will need the most investigation but uncertainty around trade deals means that UK poultry producers will be looking to scale up; currently the UK is 75% self sufficient in poultry production, and as the fourth largest poultry producer in Europe UK based firms will want to look at exporting, as well as shoring up the supply of poultry meat to UK consumers. Keeping inferior produce off the shelves is a major driving force behind the increase in production and the news that Polish processor ZD Stasin has been given access to the UK market for export may ring alarm bells for domestic producers keen to take that market share for themselves.
The RSPCA and World Animal Protection have drawn up high welfare standards for poultry and Marks and Spencers have signed up to adhere to their guidelines, a move that is expected to satisfy consumers looking for high welfare produce. According to consumer polls shoppers in the UK expect that the chicken available to buy is always a high welfare product and supporters of the new guidelines say that by providing cheap chicken it is compounding the problem and leaving shoppers on a budget no choice but to buy the lower welfare product.
Defra too issued a draft of new guidelines regarding the welfare and management of meat chickens, with the aim of improving the already world-leading welfare standards in the UK. This activity will help to strengthen the case for UK poultry production to work towards self-sufficiency and to keep meat that has not been produced to the same exacting standards off the shelves. If the chlorinated chicken debate rears it’s ugly head again it won’t be a surprise, but if the outpouring of public sentiment regarding preference for UK produced chicken is anything to go by, farmers and processors should not be too worried about the future of the poultry market in the UK.
Defra also announced 17 cases of avian flu in wild birds in the South West this week. At present there are no reports of commercial flocks being affected, but the strain that has been found is a highly contagious and farmers are being urged to report any cases of dead wild birds to the authorities. This outbreak comes at a similar time to an outbreak in 2017 that saw all birds being kept indoors for several months, leading to packaging and labelling issues with birds that are normally free range.