By Kerry Maxwell, communications manager, British Poultry Council
I think the qualities we embody as an industry underpin everything we hope to be as a society. Transparency, trustworthiness, and collaboration are not just personal qualities to aspire to; they are the bedrock of our supply chain. But it is only getting clearer that progress in all areas of our food system is being constrained by a lack of access to investment, insufficient resource, availability of qualified professionals and, ultimately, a whole lot of uncertainty.
By no means are we the only ones concerned by the challenges wrapped up in an ongoing vet shortage: the FSA made it clear in their 2022 report that they are implementing measures, including supporting local authority efforts, to recruit and retain the likes of vets and inspectors. The FSA backing the world class standards BPC members work hard to uphold is a good thing, but it goes to show that a vet shortage is part of a bigger problem pointing to the crucial importance of fairness (and the lack of it) in the supply chain. Deriving from a long-standing Government inability to prioritise and facilitate routes for investment in production, there are no easy fixes or quick wins to be had in this conversation, especially in the context of continued unsustainable export arrangements with the EU.
Consistent and sufficient resource is essential to preserve the long term viability of the industry feeding the nation, particularly in relation to the immediate burdens and costs of an altered economic and regulatory environment. A lack of OVs, combined with the onerous administration that has cost industry around £55 million a year since 1 January 2021, means critical processes keeping food moving have slowed down. It is a deteriorating situation: the value of our exports dropped 50% between 2020 and 2022 as result of costly and disproportionate trade barriers. If we cannot find a long-term solution to workforce shortages or find ways to ease the pressure on our limited existing network of vets then the impact will be felt on our world class standards of animal welfare, food safety and international trade.
Safe, affordable, nutritious poultry is half the meat the nation eats so it is essential that we address the challenges that risk impeding our progress, particularly if we want our industry to continue embodying the qualities that underpin our supply chain and beyond. A vet shortage is the pinnacle of a number of problems, whereby we need Government – current or future – to engage with industry to identify what changes are needed and how they can be delivered in such a way to shape the future of national poultry meat supply chains. Ultimately prioritising investment in sufficient resource says “we are proud of the standards we operate to, here are the tools to bolster them.”