A panel discussion organised by the European poultry meat producers association, Avec, offered some interesting insights into the challenges of EU protein production and the inner workings of the ‘Brussels bubble’. Albeit rules and regulations have pushed the industry to become the best in the world, they have caused many difficulties.
It was Avec’s president and panel host, Gert Jan Oplaat, who emphasised the important role of the European poultry meat sector in supplying healthy and affordable meat while protecting the environment. “Our sector supports the EU’s Farm to Fork strategy, as we all need to play our part in delivering a decent planet for future generations.”
Oplaat argued that regulators and poultry producers need to work together to ensure a sustainable production system for the planet, people and producers. “We all have to make sure that this fragile balance is right.”
Journalist and moderator, Andre Bertaglio, led the panel discussion with Brigitte Misonne, head of the Animal Products unit at DG AGRI of the European Commission, Colm Markey, member of the European Parliament (MEP), European Parliament AGRI Committee, Els Bedert, director, Product Policy at Eurocommerce and Birthe Steenberg, Avec secretary general. Over the last couple of years, the EU Green Deal has become a big deal.
EU commission member Brigitte Misonne: “Contrary to popular belief, the Green Deal is not a reduction strategy but a strategy with ambitious goals on the sustainable use of resources. It’s up to the industry to rise to the challenge, and it does.”
As could be heard from the panellists, the fallout from the war in Ukraine did open some eyes in the Brussels offices. MEP Colm Markey noted that high food prices have had an effect on availability, not in total volume as such, but on affordability for lower-income consumers. “Some parts of the world are struggling with food security; that is less the case in Europe. However, some consumers are having to choose between eating and heating.”
Food prices are indeed a hot topic, knows retail expert Els Bedert: “Consumers are very price sensitive at the moment. With the knowledge that higher welfare products sell at a premium, that has consequences. If consumers have a choice – and they should have – they will pick the cheaper option. Unfortunately, we see a divide between what they say and how they act. In reality, the consumer is willing to pay about 3-5% premium for higher welfare products.” Higher welfare poultry meat usually comes at a premium of 20%.
Avec secretary general, Birthe Steenberg, indicated that there are some misunderstandings around sustainability. “NGOs have set the tone in the ‘Brussels bubble’. Welfare has become a synonym for sustainability. However, that is just not the reality.”
She believes that the poultry sector can reach a higher level of sustainability if there is a better balance with welfare, ideally based on scientific arguments (see text box below). Markey saw that too: “In politics, there is a tendency to choose sentiment over science, but we have to measure ourselves not to follow sentiment if it is harmful. We have to keep an eye out for the collective of our people, producers and the environment where we produce.”