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Gary Thornton shares his thoughts on the US poultry industry. Thornton discusses legislation, trends, food safety issues and more relating to the poultry and meat industries in the US.

US poultry industry to track sustainability, tell story

August 4, 2014

A joint sustainability task force formed by the National Chicken Council (NCC), National Turkey Federation and the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association is an example of how the U.S. poultry industry is working to stay relevant to customers and consumers.

The Poultry Industry Sustainability Work Group, now being formed, is to track the poultry industry’s environmental progress over time and report this to stakeholders.

Role of the Poultry Industry Sustainability Work Group

Speaking at the 2014 Chicken Marketing Seminar, NCC Chairman Mike Helgeson, chief executive officer of GNP Company, said, “The National Chicken Council, National Turkey Federation and the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association are forming a joint sustainability task force with a goal of establishing an industry life cycle analysis and a footprint comparison of the industry over time, establishing the poultry industry’s sustainability work group in developing a standard set of principles that communicates and guides our industry’s sustainability efforts.”

Referring to recent poultry industry initiatives in food safety, animal welfare and environmental sustainability, Helgeson said, “Our ability to remain relevant and proactive is simply a reality of what we must do.”

The U.S. poultry industry is currently profiting from a combination of stronger consumer demand and lower feed grain prices but isn’t taking the connection with customers and consumers for granted.

Helgeson listed market factors spurring consumer demand for chicken:

  • Consumers are buying more chicken as beef and pork prices hit record highs in April of $5.50 and $3.95 a pound, respectively.
  • Fast-food restaurants are putting more chicken on their menus. Recent examples include Dunkin' Donuts introduction of chicken breakfast sausage and a grilled flatbread chicken sandwich.
  • A recovering economy is helping to spur a rebound in per capita chicken consumption, which is expected to rise to 83.5 pounds in 2014.

Definition of relevancy in chicken industry has changed

“Today’s definition of relevancy in the chicken industry has changed,” he said. “It no longer begins and ends with products alone. Instead, consumers and customers want to able to peel back the outer layers of the companies and see that our values match their own from the inside out.

“They want to feel good about buying our products, and as a result the new definition of relevancy has evolved to delivering products in a humane, safe and sustainable manner.

“We have worked hard to meet and exceed strict air and water quality standards set by both federal and state agencies and have millions of dollars toward research and innovation in order to develop and employ the most sustainable practices throughout the industry.

“For example, in 1925 before the poultry industry’s production techniques were in place, it took 4.7 pounds of feed to produce one pound of chicken. By 2013, that was down to 1.0 pound. This correlates to a reduction of over 18 million acres of land used to produce corn and soybeans.

“We have a great story to tell, and we will be telling it,” Helgeson said.

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