Comment: Are we leading the industry, or being led?

By Charles Bourns, Gloucestershire broiler grower

We have just depleted our third crop of RSPCA Assured birds and all has gone reasonably well. We did have a few leg problems this time in one shed, but they seemed to grow through the problem. It lasted 10 days so could have been an IB challenge. Again, gas usage was the main expense and I think next winter we will have to half house brood or maybe go back to using brooders now we have a refurbished house.

We have had super fast broadband put in. To facilitate this, we had to clear part of the attic and whilst doing this I found an award we received from BOCM PAULS back in 1996 and it was for above average EPEF of 258. My last RSPCA Assured result was an EPEF of 257 so we have turned the clock back 25 years!

I believe the industry will now move forward again as the introduction of the Hubbard Redbro is showing so we will end up with a bird that ticks the NGOs’ boxes as well as the consumers’.  My concern is that this is being led by the retailers and not the industry. As someone at Tesco said to me several years ago, ‘When are you going to come to me and tell me you have a product that I should sell, rather than being driven by the us?’

My other concern is that RSPCA Assured is showing again how uncommercial it is and is not authorising the use of the new breed, giving no reason. It has been trialled for two years in the Netherlands, so we will end up with a two-tier enhanced welfare bird on the shelves that will confuse everyone, both with the Red Tractor on them. I know it concerns the Red Tractor and they have put in place a very stringent testing programme for any new breed if not RSPCA approved to make sure it comes up to standard.

From the point of view of conferences and consultations it has been a quiet month. I think most have been digesting the results of The Red Tractor consultation. The NFU put in a 300-page response on poultry and I am told by the TAC representative this has ironed out most of our concerns; it will be discussed at the Red Tractor Poultry Board meeting on 12 May.

I also attended the Eurogroup’s End of Cage presentation in Brussels. They have managed to achieve 1.4 million signatures. Most of the speakers backed the ban but a couple of scientists were brave enough to say that the consequences of the ban would be more expensive food and probably more imports. It would also mean less efficient production and a larger carbon footprint.

It will be interesting to see what the Commission will do or if they will just let the consumer decide. The proposed ban applies to the use of all cages ie sow stalls, veal crates, rabbit, mink, foxes, foie gras, etc.

I will end this month by saying how sorry I was to hear that Winston Westcott has passed away. I used to be involved in an initiative called the Chicken and Egg and Winston was a great supporter, always giving his time and always smiling. He also supported the NFU South West Committee keeping us up to date with the laying world, but because of COVID I had not seen him for about 18 months. He will be greatly missed, I am sure.



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