May 10, 2006


Dire warnings pervade UK pig and poultry fair



Participants at UK's 2-day pig and poultry fair on May 9 and 10 were cautioned about a future fraught with high costs, bird flu and cheap imports which threatened to overwhelm British production.


The biennial fair in Warwickshire showcased products from 300 exhibitors from the poultry, pork and egg industries. 


Cheap poultry imports from Italy, where prices have taken a hit from bird flu, have hurt British producers. Meanwhile, worries about a herd that has been shrinking since 1998 is plaguing UK's hog industry.


Veterinary authorities and industry leaders also urged continued vigilance on bird flu.


Debby Reynolds, the UK government's chief veterinary officer, warned that surveillance would have to be increased this autumn when migrating birds make their return journeys


One silver lining the industry sees is that an intensive publicity campaign has managed to get the message across to consumers that bird flu is much less of a threat to humans than to poultry.


Still, industry leaders acknowledged that prices have taken a beating thanks to cheap Italian imports precipitated by bird flu.


Moreover, growth in poultry sales have slowed to 2 percent on-year, down from the 7 percent expected before bird flu was discovered in a wild swan in Scotland, according to Charles Bourns, poultry board chairman for the English National Farmers' Union.


A report from the National Farmers Union (NFU) added further gloom to the event, stating that the British chicken industry was financially unsustainable based on current trends.


In recent years, falling prices for poultry have been met with higher labour and energy costs, the report said. This development impeded the ability of the poultry industry to re-invest profits and modernise operations. Ultimately, such a trend would lead to closures of more poultry farms, with larger implications for the nation's poultry supplies, said English NFU president Peter Kendall.


The report appealed to processors and distributors to give producers a decent margin to invest in the industry's future.


Mick Sloyan, chief executive of the British Pig Executive echoed similar pleas, saying that competition is not solely on costs but also about the value of British production.