The latest European Union poultry figures reveal that while poultry meat production grew 0.6% in 2009, volume is expected to drop slightly by 0.5% during 2010.

Poultry meat imports and exports were in equilibrium in quantity last year, but the figures show that imports were considerably higher when viewed in value terms. This is because the EU exports low-value products that it cannot place anywhere in the domestic market and imports almost exclusively higher-value chicken and turkey breasts at prices that depress all meat prices in the EU.

Poultry meat demand increasing  

The Association of Poultry Processors and Poultry Trade in the EU (AVEC), states that the medium-term prospects for the poultry sector remain positive, with an expected increase in poultry and pig meat consumption, while the consumption of other meats will decline further.

According to its September 2009 report, the sector’s short production cycle and a growing consumer preference for poultry meat has enabled the industry to increase prices in line with rising feed prices, dampening the effect of higher input costs.

“Competitive prices compared to other meats and strong consumer preference are projected to continue to drive EU poultry production to 12.5 million t by 2015 (an increase of more than 8%),” according to the association, and demand is expected to outpace production during the same period.

The demand for chicken meat is expected to continue to grow across the whole of the European Union in tandem with the predicted rise in the world’s population, not only because it is an efficient meat to produce and less expensive for consumers, but also because it is versatile, simple to prepare and best suited for ready meals, comments Rob Newbury, chief poultry adviser at the National Farmers Union of England and Wales.

However, he is quick to point out that it is not all good news for producers in Britain. They are still facing major challenges on regulation issues within the EU, including a new directive on the welfare of meat chickens, new targets for ammonia emissions under the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control regulations and the latest stocking density rules.

UK outlook good, challenges remain  

While the stocking density regulations affects all EU poultry producers, Mr Newbury explained that they were lower in the UK than elsewhere, so producers there are struggling to compete with competitors in other EU member states.

He warned that feed could also be a problem in the future, as any disruption in supply chains, or prices could hit producers hard.

“However, overall, the market is strong and there is a positive outlook for poultry producers, as long as we can keep the red tape in check and face up to all the pressure exerted on the market by the major retailers, who try to keep a tight rein on producers wherever they can,” concluded Mr Newbury.

A spokeswoman for the British Poultry Council agreed that the outlook for the poultry industry is looking very positive.

The council, which is considered by many to be the voice of poultry meat, estimates that chicken consumption in the UK will increase by half a kilogram every 12 to 18 months over the next 10 years – and the market is well placed to satisfy that demand. It predicts that imports will remain steady over this period, providing up to 45% of consumption.

The spokeswoman pointed out that 75% of the UK’s poultry imports currently came from other EU member states and explained that an essential part of the council’s work is to ensure the practical implementation and equal enforcement of UK and EU legislation, while still maintaining a science-based and cost-effective approach to regulations.

When questioned about the possible challenges facing this sector during the coming decade, the spokeswoman said: “We expect that the two main issues will probably be animal health and animal welfare. These two matters are very much the focus on the current industry and we cannot image that this will change much in the coming years.”

However, in addition to them, she warned that recruitment and training had the potentially of posing a major challenge to the industry in the short to medium term.

In an effort to forestall any problems, the British Poultry Council has recently launched a new training initiative for workers and potential workers to help minimise the risk of facing a future without enough skilled staff.