By Gary Ford, chief executive, British Egg Industry Council
I am very proud and pleased to be writing my first article for Poultry Business magazine in my new role as CEO of the BEIC after serving as Deputy from mid-August 2023. At the BEIC Council meeting held at the BEIC offices, London on 6 December, Andrew Joret retired from his long-standing role as BEIC Chairman, after 23 years as CEO, Mark Williams stepped into the Chairman role and I took on the CEO role.
The four months in the Deputy role has given me the opportunity to get out and about and to engage with many stakeholders. This engagement – which has been very informative – will continue over the coming weeks and months and, in reality, will be an important and ongoing part of my role as I build on Mark and Andrew’s solid foundation. Engagement was a key part of my role at the NFU when I was Chief Poultry Adviser and is equally important to me in my new role.
Collaboration is also a key part of the role. I firmly believe that we, industry representative groups, can achieve more working together than the sum of our parts. It is too easy to work in silos, whilst doing a good job, but working together can amplify and enhance our effectiveness be that in policy work, for example, government polices around disease control or animal welfare, or in building a more resilient sector that is able to better face into current challenges or those challenges that have gone quiet or have simply not yet materialised.
I am pleased that there have already been several examples of collaboration recently – the joint BEIC/BFREPA letter regarding the new laying hen welfare standards published by the RSPCA in mid-November and the BEIC/NFU Cymru/BFREPA letter to the Welsh Assembly calling for the 16 week housing consultation for free range layers to be published. Looking forward, we are also collaborating with BFREPA and the NFU regarding a Lion producer roadshow series of meetings to be held in February and March. The programme will involve around ten meetings spread throughout England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The meetings will be held in the early evening and will be an opportunity to further outline Version 8 of the Lion Code as well as an update on Avian Influenza. The AI element of the meetings will include hearing from a producer that has first-hand experience of going through AI as an Infected Premise (IP), sharing their lessons learnt.
It should not be forgotten that version 8 of the Lion Code of Practice simply consolidated and amalgamated the various amendments that had been made to version 7, as well as pulling together the bird welfare elements into their own sections. In fact, there are few new standards and those are there to protect both site operators as well as the Lion scheme. It is now over four months since version 8 of the Lion Code came into force on 1 September and the roadshows will be an opportunity to give feedback on what the Lion auditors, NSF, are seeing on-farm. If you can make the Lion producer meetings, please come along as this is a two-way process – I firmly believe that working together we will continue to strengthen the Lion which is important as we all benefit from a strong Lion. 77% of consumers that we surveyed in June 2023 commented that the Lion brand stands for a guarantee of quality. This is something that we need to continue to work hard to retain – and build on – and, as part of this, it is important that all Lion registered sites are audit ready all of the time, 24/7, 365 days of the year.
We will be presented with a golden opportunity to get our key messages across this year by virtue of the General Election. We must get on the front foot and pro-actively engage with current MPs and individuals that are standing in the election against them. Candidates are keen to engage and listen to our views and our asks and we must make the most of this. I appreciate that we are operating ‘an essential visitors only’ policy due to the ongoing AI risk but we can still invite them to the farm to sit around the kitchen table making them feel welcome. This is an ideal forum to demonstrate both our passion and our concerns – and for those family farms, the hope and aspirations for the next generation coming into the business. We will be publishing an ‘egg manifesto’ that will help with the lobbying efforts and getting our key messages across.
Finally, I am looking forward to my new role and continuing to engage with producers and stakeholders and I hope to see as many of you as possible at the producer roadshows.