The poultry sector in the UK needs to be far more proactive in getting its high-quality, high-welfare message across, if it is to win the confidence of consumers, writes Philip Clarke for Poultry World.
Presenting the 20th Temperton Fellowship report in London, poultry vet Stephen Lister explained there was a growing interest in the provenance of food.
And, while consumers were often "fickle", there was no doubt they had the power to influence farm animal welfare and future production systems. But there were also misconceptions about animal welfare. For example, it was generally considered that beef and sheep enjoyed higher welfare, because they were out in fields, even though this could lead to a high incidence of lameness.
"We do things behind closed doors (in poultry) and a lot of the critics of the industry say we put our birds in these sheds, without windows, because we don't want people to see what we are doing."
Education was the key, said Lister, who cited some IGD research in which people said they didn't like the idea of beak trimming in broilers - something that does not happen anyway. In another survey, one group of consumers believed mortality levels in broiler sheds was "between one-third and a half". They were "stunned" to learn it was less than 5%. "This is the mental image that people still have about our industry."
Lister said there was a need to be proactive. "People are most influenced by what they hear first," he said. "What seems to happen is consumers look at a problem and if you explain it to them, they'll say, 'right, I know about that now'. Then, if there is a scare story, they won't read it because they already have their view.
Lister praised the fact that one or two commercial poultry farmers were starting to get involved in Open Farm Sunday. "If we open the doors, we will explode the myths of what goes on inside those sheds." He also praised farm assurance schemes. "If consumers are aware that certain schemes have certain standards which are above the legal minimum, then you can give people confidence."
Source: Poultry World