British poultry producers must not be left at a competitive disadvantage by lower standard imports, the NFU told delegates at a meeting in the European Parliament recently.
NFU poultry board chairman Duncan Priestner told delegates at a breakfast meeting in Brussels that British consumers expected and demanded higher welfare, environmental and food safety standards which British poultry farmers have already introduced to the cost of hundreds of millions.
But he warned that trade negotiations with the US1 where minimum welfare standards are lower than those in force within Europe could put the industry at risk from cheaper imports.
Our consumers have high expectations, higher than many of our competitors. We are proud of our world-leading standards. However, these standards all add to cost of production and this puts us at a disadvantage to the US, said Mr Priestner.
We are concerned that lower standard imports could leave us on an uneven playing field and undermine our consumers values.
We would like to send out a clear message to those involved in the negotiations that we do not regard US poultry production systems to be equivalent to the UK and we believe that the gap between the EU and US production methods is too wide and it is unrealistic to reach a compromise.
Some of the NFUs concerns are that:
In 2012 the Welfare of Laying Hens Directive came in to force which banned battery cages. Producers in the UK have invested around 400million in replacing these cages with new high welfare enriched cages which have more space, scratching pads, perches and nesting areas. At the same time, 95 per cent of eggs in the US come from conventional cage systems and it is estimated their cost of production is 25 per cent lower than the UKs.
The US can use treatments in the processing plant, such as chlorine, to wash poultry meat. In the EU only potable water can be used, therefore there is huge emphasis on-farm hygiene.
Mr Priestner was speaking at a joint event by the NFU and NPA, hosted by Conservative MEP Vicky Ford.