Comment: French problems are a sobering lesson for us all

By Charles Bourns, broiler grower and chair of poultry & eggs working group, Copa Cogeca

In December I spent six days in Brussels firstly at the Copa Cogeca meeting and secondly at the EU Agricultural Outlook Conference.

I had not realised that France, whose industry was once larger than ours, has shrunk by 30% or 600,000 tonnes. Why? Firstly cheap imports and secondly the loss of market for their speciality breeds such as Poulet Rouge and Poulet Noir because the consumer no longer wants to buy so many whole birds. Also, the French also do not have a Red Tractor equivalent to promote their products. A very sober lesson for us to learn – you just cannot take your consumer for granted.

The commission have a budget of 200 million Euros for promotion and the Poles, German, Dutch, French and Italian industries have joined together and submitted a joint application, which has been successful for a grant of 5.5 million Euros to promote poultry in their countries to the consumer. We must make sure our Government replicates in this country to make sure we are not disadvantaged in the brave new world we are moving towards.

In Ireland they have a scheme called ‘two for one’, which helps poultry producers refurbish their poultry houses. As I understand it, for every euro the producer pays, the government pays two euros, up to a maximum grant of 80,000 euros. Imagine what a help this would be at this present time; again we must lobby our government for similar help.

In another sign of the changing world we live in, I learnt five Polish processing plants have been given licenses to export to China without a visit. How? Through a video audit. The Chinese auditors were based in a room at the Polish embassy in Beijing and directed a Polish person with a video camera who walked through the plant pointing the camera where they wanted it to go. Apparently, it takes two hours per plant to complete. Could this process be done over here for our farm audits? You could do the paperwork and then do a video audit outside.

At the Outlook conference we learnt the EU wants to set an example to the rest of the world on climate change and also to encourage European citizens to become less obese. One of the ways they want to achieve this is by a reduction in the eating of red meat.

At present the average European eats 70kg of meat and this they wish to reduce this by 1kg and to encourage consumers to eat more chicken instead. There was a speaker who pointed out meat-free products aren’t necessarily healthier. She showed that a beef burger contained seven ingredients compared to a meat free burger that contained 20 ingredients.  

Whilst there I went on a march to lobby the commission to support a campaign that explodes the myths behind the publications that support the meat free products. We had representation from about 14 countries.

One bit of good news is the Ukrainian Government has ratified the new trade agreement which should mean a cut back on tariff free breast meat, which has been causing problems in the marketplace.

In the brave new world post-Brexit we must make sure our European friends cannot pull a fast one on us. We used to be the dumping ground for Europe and we cannot afford to become it again.

At home the farm is performing well. We have had very low mortalities for the past two crops. We had chicks in before Christmas for our last crop of standard birds before we go to grow the slow growing breed. Let’s hope 2020 is a good one.


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