Richard Griffiths has been with the British Poultry Council for over twelve years. Richard was Policy Director before becoming Chief Executive in November 2016. He has contributed to the BPC’s successful work on a range of issues including animal welfare, campylobacter, antibiotics, meat inspection, avian influenza, and is responsible for raising the profile of the UK poultry meat sector. Leaving the EU has introduced new challenges in the form of the cost of trade and access to labour.
Richard has a background in mining engineering and began his working life with British Coal in underground mines, and then spent eight years with the Quarry Products Association before moving to the poultry sector. He spoke to Poultry Business about some of the main issues facing the industry
What are you hopes and fears for Brexit?
“Facing Brexit, trust and confidence in British food is more important than ever, and that means standing up for what we believe in. As we pursue new trade deals we cannot compromise on our standards that have been hard won through years of experience. We are determined to win in a global marketplace by stressing the vital importance of quality.
“Brexit provides opportunities for opening new markets for trade, but it also creates new challenges in terms of skills and the workforce. Our sector has grown beyond the labour availability in the areas we operate – which is why 60% of our workforce are EU nationals. We have invested in attracting UK labour, at the same time as nurturing existing talent, but it’s a competitive market and we’re going to need both UK and non-UK labour in the future.
“Sterling’s devaluation, coupled with the uncertainty over status for EU workers post-Brexit, has made the UK labour market less attractive. Most of our businesses are experiencing a decline in the availability of non-UK labour, which is also driving inflationary pressures in pay. It is critical that the workers that are currently here from so many nations, who have had a pivotal role in shaping our success story, can carry on living and working here and that any new ones can come as and when required. We are calling on the Government for a flexible visa system that allows ‘poultry meat’ as an industry to bring in non-UK labour for roles that cannot be filled with UK labour.
“Whether wanted or not, Brexit is giving us an opportunity to redefine our Britishness, to re-focus our production system and to stimulate investment to produce more British food to feed the nation.”
What are your biggest surprises since becoming CEO?
“Over the last year, what I’ve enjoyed the most is setting the tone and defining the sector’s culture and values. I’ve also realised the vital importance of putting sound processes in place, selecting and mentoring key people and creating the conditions that will help others make the right choices.
“Also, I believe that we sometimes tend to underestimate the importance of a simple and consistent message. I’m surprised by the level of enthusiasm and buy in we’ve received from a range of stakeholders, when we’ve gone out there with a simple and clear message, repeated often and illustrated with memorable narratives.”
What are the things that inspire you about the British poultry meat sector?
“Today, poultry accounts for half the meat eaten in this country. We’ve grown in a competitive marketplace and have never sought subsidies through the Common Agricultural Policy. From farm to fork and from processing plant to export, we have built a strong track record of feeding the nation and embodying the ‘Great British Food Values’ that our consumers demand from our food.
“What inspires me most is our sector’s persistence and determination to succeed, irrespective of the circumstances. It’s fantastic to work in an industry full of people who love working incredibly hard, who are passionate about producing high quality food, and who are determined to carry on building our success story.
“I’m proud to represent a crucial food sector that is determined to use Brexit as an opportunity to bolster the heart of Britain’s food supply and secure it for generations to come. And I’m delighted with what we have achieved in the last twelve months, particularly around safeguarding our world-class welfare standards, although that fight isn’t over yet.”
What are your priorities for the year ahead?
“I want the British poultry meat industry to be as ‘fit-for-Brexit’ as it can be, given the fluidity of the situation. We are clear in our political asks (particularly on trade and labour) and we’ll keep the pressure up on Government to deliver on those areas.
“We are also going to work with the Government to harness our productivity, drive efficiency and strengthen our supply chains. We’ll further enhance the image of our sector, raise awareness of career opportunities and invest in developing skills of our workforce. We will also carry on demonstrating our commitment to continuously evolve and nurture the trust and confidence that our consumers have in our food.
“We’ll be doing everything we can to make a success of Brexit, but we mustn’t forget that it’s people that make a great industry. There are fantastic people in this sector and the main job of a trade association is to make sure their passion is reflected in how consumers, stakeholders, and politicians see us.”