Comment: I’ve had my sheds set on fire, all in the name of welfare

By Charles Bourns, poultry farmer and chair of Copa Cogeca working group on poultry and eggs

The industry needs to realise that we are under pressure from another industry, the welfare industry. When you think about it there are great numbers of people making a very good living out of it and so it is not in their interest to stop their campaigns.

I have come to the conclusion that we could stock chicken at 20/30/34 kg per square metre and still not satisfy pressure groups who do not recognise stockmanship and have a very simplistic view of welfare due to a lack of knowledge.

I spoke to a judge and they are powerless to help us, as are the Police as break ins do not seem to be an offence, although if I broke into one of these activists houses I am sure I would be prosecuted.  I write as a farmer who has had his sheds set on fire, water disconnected and fans switched off all in the name of welfare.  I also spent money in the past on adapting my house to grow Freedom Food Chicken.  I grew them for two crops and then went back to standard chicken as there was no market for them; the market has continued to fall since.

We need our political bodies and assurance schemes to start to champion what we do to show that they are proud of their members and what we have achieved. We as a poultry industry produce the most affordable protein in the world.

It is enjoyed by billions of people which is why we have overtaken all other proteins in production figures, we are growing year on year. We have the lowest carbon footprint, we become more efficient every year, we adapt to the customer’s needs – just look at our record on antibiotics, growth promoters etc.  What is there not to be proud of but unless we do shout about it no one else will and we will go down the route of other great industries.

In 1955 we produced 5 million chickens per year, today it is 1 billion. Is that not fantastic? What a successful industry.

We can compete with other countries. To show my age, Eastwood, a name most will have forgotten, said at a conference he could produce a dozen eggs for 6p when most were for 8p.  When the farmers heard this a great number dropped out, it was not true but it worked.  So let us not fall into that trap. The UK food prices are the third cheapest as a percentage of income.  Do our customers really want chicken from the USA, Brazil or China? They can influence us and check on us easily, not easy if you buy from Tyson or others.  Will Tyson concrete the floors of his chicken houses, stop antibiotic use, clean his sheds out after every crop, I think not!!! The order from the largest British customer would hardly register with him. Nice to have but the threat is not essential to his business and a stick to be used against us.

That is enough of my rant. From the bottom of the heap I just get very frustrated.  Remember 96% of customers eat and enjoy poultry products, whether it be eggs or meat.  That does not mean I am unwilling to adapt but only by market forces dictating it and not driven by a London-centric minority.

Everything at home jogs along. We were affected by the heat but luckily survived to fight another day.  This crop we have taken out most of the fancy additives and have gone back to basics should be interesting to see what happens to our result so far so good.



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