SCOTLAND, UK - Scottish consumers face the prospect of being unable to buy Scottish chicken in their local supermarket as further cuts to Scottish producers’ contracts are announced.
Without urgent action the Scottish Government’s own Poultry Plan, produced in December 2013, will be redundant.
The retail poultry market is predicted to grow 26 per cent over the next five years but despite the clear demand for quality Scottish chicken the number of independent chicken producers in Scotland has fallen from 28 to 12 since December. The number of chickens produced in Scotland will fall by more than seven million birds per year.
This week saw the closure of a number of company-owned farms in the Scottish Borders by Hook 2 Sisters, Scotland’s dominant chicken processor. It followed an announcement detailing the termination of four growers’ contracts late in August as well as free range contracts last week.
To date, 12 growers, who are all based around, or north of Aberdeen, have lost their contracts and there are fears that there could be more cuts to follow. There is also speculation that the recent closure by PD Hook of its Inverurie hatchery may now see Scottish organic growers struggle to source chicks.
The restructuring, which began in November 2013, of those supplying both 2 Sisters Food Group and now Hook 2 Sisters has been brutal. The Union believes that every Scottish consumer expects to find fresh Scottish chicken in Scottish stores, but without an immediate change in fortunes, that wish appears undeliverable.
Up until now the Union has campaigned for a cutting plant in Scotland, and that now will take a back seat as recent events come into focus and take priority.
After meeting with the Scottish Chicken Growers Association (SCGA), NFU Scotland has agreed to provide some legal support to those whose contracts have been terminated.
The Union has contacted the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) making its case for the Scottish chicken market to be investigated and a report put forward to the Competition Commission following this latest round of cuts. The OFT was consulted on the takeover of Vion by 2 Sisters last year and at the time authorised the move. However, NFU Scotland feels the actions taken since then within the industry go against the reassurances given to the OFT during its original investigation and requires a second look. The Union does not believe that what it is seeing in Scotland represents the normal functioning of market forces.
The loss of vital infrastructure is an immediate concern, limiting future options and possibilities for the industry as once lost they will be almost impossible to replace. The Union is consulting with Scottish Government planning advisors to consider options to help preserve current sites.
The Poultry Plan aimed to maintain the critical mass of the sector after the initial announcement of cuts by 2 Sisters Food Group. This Plan was designed to develop infrastructure and markets to safeguard future production. Unfortunately, the significant investment required to create a sustainable chicken processing hub has not been made.
NFU Scotland President Nigel commented: "Scotland’s chicken growers have reached a crisis point. The events of the last few months will see production virtually cease around the North East with very much a small island of activity left around Angus.
"This has all happened behind the veil of an aspirational Poultry Plan to provide consolidation to Scottish production and to grow it at the same time. In reality, in the last few months, the supply chain has halved.
"The downsizing has cut away vital infrastructure and left the industry focussed in Angus. That is blocking the recovery of the sector. This should be an issue for the OFT, and if required the Competition Commission to investigate and act.
"To date little tangible has been delivered through the Poultry Plan and action is needed fast to save the industry before numbers and infrastructure are damaged beyond repair. The industry seems far away from the hopeful scenario outlined by the Scottish Government.
"With the numbers of birds at this current level, I would expect some nervousness within the processing sector. The numbers don’t appear to add up to support two processing plants within Scotland and there is potential for a further loss of processing jobs. That must start alarm bells ringing with our politicians.
"Priority must be given to protect the remaining infrastructure of the industry, which once lost would be hard to recover, and getting commitment for an alternative plant to provide an outlet for Scottish product.
"The demand is there for quality Scottish chicken and we have the growers willing and able to meet this demand. It is a disgrace that we could be heading towards a situation where there might be little or no chicken produced within Scotland."
TheMeatSite News Desk