By Gary Ford, chief poultry advisor
With a few weeks before I move into my new role as the NFU’s Regional Director for East Anglia, I thought now would be a good time to reflect on nearly seven years in post. There have been many highlights in those years, but some stand out, showing what can be achieved when we are united and all striving for the same outcome.
My baptism at the NFU when I started back in 2013 was the difficult task of driving down levels of Campylobacter on fresh poultry meat. I recall the then CEO of the Food Standards Agency was hell bent on banning thinning as a way of achieving this. I knew from my own on-farm experiences the huge importance of thinning, not least to the independent sector.
We resolved to get to know her and demonstrate what lengths the sector was going to in order to reduce levels of the bacteria, as well as successfully applying to the Food Standards Agency for £100,000 of grant funding to pursue free on-farm tests for the benefit of our members.
This, together with the determined work of the industry and FSA, meant that targets for reduction were finally met. The journey was challenging but it put the sector in a stronger position and showed what could be achieved when industry and government worked together.
One area that I have to mention and has caused significant disruption to our members is Avian Influenza. We have helped so many members caught up in outbreaks and I have seen first-hand the impact it has. I would like to offer praise here for the sterling work of Defra and the APHA. The close working relationship that we developed though some very challenging times for the industry has made the sector stronger. We must not lose focus given the ever-present threat of this and other diseases to farms across the country.
Going forward, there are storm clouds overhead. However, our sector will endure because poultry is affordable and versatile, it has a good image, we have great assurance scheme membership and we have the support of retailers and others. When it comes to trade, we absolutely need the right trade deal that respects our high environmental and animal welfare standards.
For our poultry members in East Anglia, I am not going anywhere. For those elsewhere, please keep in touch as I do not want to lose friendships which have endured over the past seven years and in many cases much longer. Thank you all for your unstinting support and friendship.