By Kerry Maxwell, communications manager, British Poultry Council
Commentary out of COP28 that the momentum on lowering emissions “must not trample on animal welfare” is a fair call to make. A sustainable and productive food system spins a lot of plates. There are a number of factors, from affordability to carbon emissions to welfare, that are intertwined and vital to our transition into a fairer and greener society. But the notion that animal welfare risks being sacrificed to lower emissions is one that undermines any opportunity to create meaningful change that defines British poultry meat producers’ responsibilities and contributions to feeding people, tackling inequalities with safe and affordable food, and ensuring a liveable climate for all.
Ours is an industry committed to producing food that people trust and value: our world class health and welfare standards are feeding the nation in a cost-of-living crisis, and we continue to make strides in improving our efficiency and productivity to meet our environmental targets and ambitions. Equally, we have made it no secret that premium production systems require more inputs and are ultimately less productive; these and environmental sustainability are currently moving in different directions.
That is not to say, despite the various production systems we use, we do not have a responsibility to the wellbeing of both our birds and planet. It is also not to say that birds reared indoors in a controlled environment (as 85% of the billion birds we produce annually are) do not have good welfare. Being half the meat the nation eats, our birds are the most valuable part of the farm. I suppose my question here is what the definition of ‘good welfare’ is, given that getting farming off the ground and caring for our birds while using less inputs to produce good outputs is not ‘bad welfare.’ Our goal is to strike the right balance aligning continuous improvement in welfare with wider environment and affordability priorities.
By no means are these issues linear or neatly boxed, but the path towards a sustainable food system isn’t about sacrificing one factor for another. Doing so will only dilute our impact and purpose in the long run. Careful consideration must be paid to the intersect of our responsibilities to welfare and the environment, but it’s also a unique opportunity for us to celebrate what we do, why we do it, and drive thoughtful improvements whilst providing safe, affordable and nutritious food for all.