Coming Home to Roost: The British Poultry Meat Industry After Brexit

Publication Details

What will happen to the UK’s poultry meat sector after Brexit? Will producers and consumers alike be willing to pay potentially higher prices? Or will they be happy to compromise our high standards of production, after the UK leaves the regulatory safety net of the EU? Unless the Government is made aware of the key challenges and options available to it, the UK is at risk of undermining its food security.

Our report ‘Coming Home to Roost: The Poultry Meat Industry after Brexit’ aims to address these issues by identifying the main economic, societal and environmental risks to the poultry sector across a variety of potential Brexit scenarios.

We argue that a ‘no deal’ scenario represents the worst-case outcome for the British poultry meat industry. The sector is vulnerable to rising labour and trade friction costs, lower standard imported produce, and potential environmental degradation should we leave the EU without a deal. It raises the risk of eating chicken produced to lower standards, imperilling public health and compromising consumer values. It also risks raising the price of poultry, amplifying societal inequalities and creating a two-tier food system in Britain.

This report provides a series of safeguards to offset these risks. Brexit must be used as an opportunity to re-focus our attention on British values, to state boldly that prioritising high standard, affordable and sustainable British produce, for all, is at the top of our agenda. We want the Government to adopt policies that drive productivity and job growth; protect environmental sustainability; and strengthen our food security in a post-Brexit Britain.

Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said:

I thank ResPublica for their comprehensive report, “Coming home to roost”, which raises important issues to be considered as we leave the EU. Our poultry meat industry is hugely important and we are determined to get the best possible deal for the sector in the ongoing Brexit negotiations. I have been very clear that Brexit will not lead to a lowering of our high food, animal welfare and environmental standards. This will remain at the heart of our approach as we negotiate both with the EU and with new trading partners around the world.”

Phillip Blond, Director of ResPublica, said:

Regardless of the merits, or otherwise of leaving the EU, this report exposes the risks should the Government fail to secure a good deal. As part of this process they must work closely with an industry that employs nearly 87,700 people and whose products can be found in the majority of our homes and restaurants.

Despite considerable rhetoric the country seems to be marching towards a no deal Brexit, without even the most basic contingencies in place to ensure certainty of supply on the most basic of items such as chicken.

If the Government is serious about making Brexit work, then it is essential that the UK finds a workable trade deal with our EU partners. If it fails then we risk creating a dangerous two tier system, where the rich will be able to afford the increased cost of production necessary to maintain the highest standard, while those on low incomes will have little choice, but to accept poultry with inferior standards, such as chlorinated or from countries where the use of antibiotics is unregulated and unmonitored.”

British Poultry Council, Chief Executive, Richard Griffiths said:

Food is a special case, it should be treated as a national security issue, and be protected as such. Government must ensure that British food, and the quality it represents, stays affordable and available for all. If we cannot support our own production, then there will emerge a two-tier food system with the average citizen forced to rely on lower standard imports.

As the UK’s largest livestock sector, we are keen to work together with Government to help solve the conundrum of frictionless trade with Europe, be that on regulatory alignment, the use of technology to facilitate crossing of borders, or the future of where labour is going to come from.

We are calling on the Government to develop a robust transition plan to ensure we have access to the workers we need and to avoid any disruption in the smooth movement of perishable products across the EU.”

Joe Cowen Policy & Research Advisor, ResPublica and Report Author, said:

Antibiotic use is endemic in Thailand, while Brazil, another major exporter of chicken has significantly lower standard than the UK. Recently we saw 20 factories shut down over night, due to poor practices. Crashing out of the EU without a deal, means we would lose much of the EU external infrastructure that allows us to monitor and inspect the food we eat and how it is prepared.

While its possible to construct our own regulatory system, given the glacial pace of the Government around all elements of Brexit, it seems unlikely that this would happen before we are due to leave next March, exposing consumers to food produced to lower standards.”

  • Joe Cowen

    Research and Policy Adviser

    Joe joined ResPublica in January 2018, providing research and consultancy on our technology, higher education and international trade projects. Joe joined the team after completing his masters in International Relations at the University of Melbourne and King’s College London. Joe...

  • Mark Morrin

    Principal Research Consultant

    Mark is an experienced policy and research strategist with over 20 years working in partnership with businesses, public bodies, cities and counties to develop successful place-making strategies. Mark has contributed widely to research and policy developments in the UK with...

    Mark Morrin