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How the National Food Strategy report could influence the poultry sector

A free-range hen

THE National Food Strategy independent review, commissioned by the government, has been published.

It has been described as a ‘landmark’ report examining the UK’s diet from farm to fork, aiming to improve people’s health and reduce the environmental impact of food production.

See also: No sign of poultry ration cost relief

The government will respond to the recommendations within six months.

Some of the points most likely to have an impact on poultry production follow.

The report calls for a reduction in the amount of meat we eat…

A central call in the review is for the total amount of meat that we eat to be reduced – by 30%. “We simply cannot reduce emissions to a safe level, nor free up the land we need for sequestering carbon without reducing the amount of meat we eat.”

Cutting back would allow farmers to return 20% of the most unproductive land to natural habitats, it argues.

Research into consumer opinions found the idea of taxing meat a non-starter. “Every time we raised it; the atmosphere would suddenly crackle with hostility. Although a minority of our panellists liked the idea, many more were vehemently opposed.”

…And says that lab-grown meat or plant-based alternatives may replace animal production

While lab-grown meat is in its infancy, the sector is developing fast, and even faster are plant-based alternatives.

The report says there is not yet a novel protein that could substitute a Sunday roast. “But the meat in a ready-made lasagne, or even a takeaway sandwich, could plausibly be replaced.”

It calls for the UK to position itself at the forefront of this movement and points out that the UK buys a third of all plant-based alternatives sold in Europe.

It highlights the challenges with new trade deals and the disparity with welfare standards

“There is no point trying to build a low-carbon, nature-friendly, “world class food system in this country if it can be undercut by imported food produced to lower standards from abroad. We need to get trade right.”

How do UK laying hen and broiler standards compare with other countries?

UKUSAustraliaBrazil
Laying hensAll cages must have a perch,
nest box and litter and provide at least 750 cm2
of space per bird.
No federal standard;
voluntary guidelines suggest cages should be at least 432
cm2 . California will require
entirely cage-free housing
from 2022, with other states expected to follow.
Legally binding federal standards for poultry welfare are in the final stages of development. Current voluntary guidelines suggest cages should have at least 550 cm2 of space per bird.No legislation. Some laying
hens are housed with as little as 357 cm2 of space per bird.
Broiler ChickensStocking density may not
be higher than 39 kg/m2.
Chemical washes banned.
No federal legal maximum
stocking density. Chemical
washes widely used.
Voluntary guidelines suggest
stocking density should not
be higher than 46 kg/m
No legislation
Source: National Food Strategy

Intensively farmed chicken has a lower carbon footprint than free-range

The report acknowledges that indoor-reared chicken is more carbon-efficient than free-range.

“Leaving aside other important concerns – including animal welfare, the pollution caused by manure run-off, and ammonia emissions into the atmosphere – intensively farmed chicken has a lower carbon footprint than free-range chicken.

“This is because the birds gain weight more quickly when housed indoors, they catch fewer
viruses, get sick less often, and fewer die before they are ready to be slaughtered. This higher survival rate means you get more output (a portion of chicken) for less input.”

The full report can be found here.