As a computer user and more importantly as a poultry farmer in the UK I have noticed the lack of useful information available to those with interests in keeping poultry in the UK. It is with this in mind that I decided to do something about it. I hope you will find some of the information interesting, useful or maybe amusing thereby giving me some satisfaction for my efforts.

The information in this guide is of a general nature and not specific to any one country unless stated. Local legislation must be observed with particular regard to bird welfare and drug usage.




A to Z poultry disease directory


Topical issues from Richard North PhD



World egg day.



Price cuts threaten industry

Store Wars

Farmers demand in-store pricing details



Superstore calls for drug-free chicken.

World Trade Organisation negotiations.

Campaign to reduce red tape



A smallholder turns spy to expose barbarity in the egg trade.

"I would never dream of eating a free range egg in a hundred years"

Activists hail victory for Germany's hens

Feed bans could cost the UK Poultry Industry £130 million

Call for national shift to organic farming



EU Legislation on Welfare of laying hens  

Serious threat to poultry men




Have you got any news that could go here? If so, get in touch with me.



World egg day on 8th October

  FORGET about record losses in the egg business and the threat of imports and celebrate the first World Egg Day on 8th October. The idea for making this an annual event came from the International Egg Commission. Its marketing committee chairman Joanne Ivy of the American Egg Board has done a tremendous amount of work to help other egg industries mark this day with useful promotion.

Much of what can be done is summed up in a suggested 20-second quote for radio or TV, among a range of more than a dozen: "Nutritious, versatile, economical and convenient - just a few of the incentives for stocking up on eggs. Eggs are perfect for any meal - breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner - as well as being a crucial ingredient in many of our favorite desserts and snacks. For all of these reasons - and so many more 8 October has been proclaimed World Egg Day. Celebrate by enjoying your favorite egg recipe!"

There are a dozen reasons to celebrate the day says Joanne Ivy:

  1. Eggs are one of the most versatile foods on the market. 

  2. Eggs have a high nutrient density.

  3. Egg protein quality is so high that it is used as the standard for measuring other foods.

  4. Eggs have been found to contain 220% less cholesterol and 100% less fat than previously recorded. These changes are the result of new testing technology and modern egg industry feeding and production practices.

  5. Eggs have always been a bargain, nutritionally and economically.

  6. Any time of the day is right for eggs.

  7. Convenience is king and in this respect eggs reign.

  8. During the week we all want meals in minutes - that's where eggs shine.

  9. At weekends, when time is not an issue, eggs can be elegant.

  10. Egg's fat content comes close to meeting the dietary proportions currently recommended - one third saturated, one third monounsaturated and one third polyunsaturated. Many egg dishes can be prepared with little or no added fat.

  11. Children like eggs, which are nutritious while being fun and easy to cook.

  12. Convinced yet? Why not set aside the month of October to try out new egg ideas?

Promotion ideas start with stickers using the World Egg Day logo and other items too, link up with local radio and the press with an interview, Story, competitions and recipes. Similar ideas are suggested for focusing on retail and foodservice outlets, also schools and other community groups.

To add extra interest to all this Joanne Ivy has put together a World Egg Industry Facts Sheet, which could be used in all sorts of ways:

The top five egg producing countries in the world according to 1998 statistics are: China, United States, Japan, Russia and India, in that order.

China's egg production in 1998 was nearly four times that of the USA.

The top two egg exporting countries in 1998 were the USA and the Netherlands, while the top importers were japan and Hong Kong.

It is estimated that in 1998 there were 4,650 million layers in the world, which compared to a human population of 6,000 million in mid-1999 is one layer for every 1.3 people.

Table egg production was 820,000 million eggs in 1998, enabling an average consumption of 136 eggs/person.

Three of the highest egg consuming countries in the world - japan, Spain and France - also have the lowest rates of cardiovascular mortality of any of the world's industrialized countries.

The last of those facts is enough for Joanne Ivy to say: "The good news about eggs just got better." She goes on to quote from 30 years of research, which proves that eggs do not belong to a bad food group. "But oh how the health promotion groups hate to have to say that just maybe the over-emphasis on dietary cholesterol and egg restrictions for the past three decades was not really justified! "



Latest round of price cuts.  - September

THE most severe price cuts announced last week came from Sussex-based Stonegate Farmers, which reduced medium free range and barn eggs by 12p to 43p/dozen and medium intensive by 6p to 19p/dozen.

Hertfordshire packer Deans Farms cut reduced medium free range by  11p and barn by 10p to 43p and 44p/doz respectively, and small intensive by 3p to 19p/doz, free range by 7p to 19p/doz and barn by 8p to 21 p/doz.

Berkshire based Thames Valley Eggs reduced prices for all sizes and all types, but by smaller amounts.

The changes, as well as being had news for producers, have bought the three packers closer together in the smaller sizes.

Prices in the two larger categories remained mainly unchanged, with large ranging from 24-27p/doz (cage), 63-77p/doz (free range) and 63-76p/doz (barn) and very large from 39-41 p/doz (cage). 73-97p/doz (free range ) and 64-87p (barn). Daylay, the fourth big packer, produces most of its eggs on its own farms.

Cage producers supplying packers have been making losses for some lime now as a result of low prices, but reductions in the alternative sectors in recent months mean that many barn and free range producers will also lose money on each egg sold.

NFU figures put the average cost of production in cage production at 45.3p/doz, in the barn sector at 53p/doz and in free range at 63.1 p/doz.

These compare with the Ministry of Agriculture August packer to producer prices, weighted to take into account all weights, - calculated before last week's cuts - of 26.5p/doz for cages, 60.1p/doz for free range and 50.4p/doz for barn.



Store wars hatch 4p egg – “Farming News”

By Geoff King


PRODUCERS are bracing themselves for another outbreak of price wars between the big supermarkets following evidence of the 'Wal-Mart effect' in the poultry industry.

Already a wholesale price cut has relegated the flagship, welfare-friendly, free-range egg to the price of a commodity - 4p, producers claim.

Alarm bells are now ringing in other farming sectors, which fear that this is the first evidence of the downward pressure on supermarket prices that has become known as the Wal-Mart effect.

Over the weekend, packers told contracted free-range producers they would be receiving up to 12 pence per dozen less for their eggs. For the average 6000 bird unit, that means nearly £15,000 a year less income.

"The latest reduction has got nothing to do with oversupply," said vice chairman of the British Free Range Egg Producers Association, John Widdowson.

"The packers are scrapping for business and they are giving our eggs away to get it."

What concerns Mr Widdowson is that, like other welfare friendly farming produce, free-range eggs are not readily available as imports.

Rival supermarkets to WalMart, while admitting they could not compete on price, have pledged to farmers that they would play the welfare and quality assurance card to maintain customer loyalty and prices.

"The majority of free-range producers are with the RSPCA Freedom Foods," said Mr Widdowson.

"We need the premium price to maintain standards. There needs to be a minimum agreed price for eggs."

Most producers are locked into 12 month exclusive contracts with their packer, but with no price guarantee.

Fluctuations have occurred in the past, but NFU South West poultry specialist Paul Cooper said he had never seen a drop of this magnitude in 20 years.

"Many producers who have expanded put forward cash flows to their bank managers which are now effectively null and void," said Mr Cooper.

None of the packers contacted by FARMING NEWS however, were able to comment.

Free-range chickens represent 15 per cent of the UK flock, but make up as much as 40 per cent of supermarket sales



Demand for in-store farmer-price details – “Farmers Guardian”

BRITAIN is being urged to follow the lead set by France in requiring supermarkets to display the prices they pay to farmers for fruit and vegetables - and go one better by extending it to all agricultural produce.

The demand came on Tuesday at the opening day of the Pembrokeshire County Show when Farmers' Union of Wales leaders met Welsh Assembly Members and MPs.

From last Monday, French supermarkets have had to show the prices paid to growers on their labels, along with the price the customer gas to pay it also applies to the 30 per cent or so of produce bought from non-French farmers. The requirement follows intervention by the French Government on behalf of its farmers.

"They have long campaigned that they do not get fair share of the shop price and that wholesale buyers acting for supermarkets squeeze prices, leaving no profit for the producer," said the FUW. "The French Agriculture Ministry brought together shops, wholesalers and farmers and threatened to impose minimum farmgate prices if they did not reach an agreement."

Jane Howells, the FUW's Pembrokeshire county officer, told MPs and Assembly Members at the show that the French system should be adopted - and extended - in the UK. If the dual price display system could be introduced in France, it could also be introduced in the UK, given supermarket profit margins in Britain. It would certainly benefit customers.

"The French have given a lead that should be followed in this country."

Marks & Spencer announced on Wednesday that it planned to introduce a range of meats and eggs guaranteed not to have been fed on genetically modified crops, specifically maize and soya. It says it is responding to customer pressure on purchases of meat, milk and eggs.

Dr Tom Clayton, head of food technology for M&S said: "We have responded by changing the feed in the production of free range chicken, eggs and pork. Customers will be able to purchase these products from selected stores from October."

GM free foods are expected to carry a significant price premium of 15 per cent. The move is seen as a test of whether there is real public concern over GM crops and ingredients.

Other supermarkets meanwhile are in a dispute as to who was the first to ban GM ingredients. Iceland has complained to the Advertising Standards Authority over recent Sainsbury's claims on GM-free foods. Sainsburv’s claim to be the first major retailer to ensure that all its own brand foods are GM free. Iceland counter claims that it moved first - in May 1998 - and also set up the first customer GM helpline.



Superstore calls for drug-free chickens – “Western Morning News”

ONE of Britain's leading supermarket chains has called on its chicken suppliers to consider phasing out the use of growth promoting antibiotics.

Asda has asked its producers to conduct trials into a drug-free approach to rearing chickens.

The call comes after an announcement by Grampian Country Food Group, Britain's biggest chicken producer, that it was stopping the use of growth promoting drugs.

It follows concern that the overuse of antibiotics poses a threat to human health by helping to create so-called microscopic "superbugs" which are resistant to modern medicines.

An Asda spokeswoman said it had notified all its UK chicken suppliers asking them to take the same approach with a view to attempting a similar policy to Grampian.

Earlier, two of Grampian's biggest customers, Marks & Spencer and Tesco, welcomed the move, insisting it was the result of an initiative within the industry rather than pressure from retailers.

M&S spokeswoman Sue Sadler said it would now expect other meat producers to look at the possibilities of stopping the use of antibiotics to speed growth.

Grampian, which supplies nearly a third of all home-grown chickens in the UK, made the announcement after an antibiotic-free trial involving up to 1.5 million birds showed no deterioration in their quality or welfare.

Food safety experts at Friends of the Earth welcomed the decision as a significant step forward in animal husbandry which should sound the death-knell for the use of antibiotics.



Welfare must be at top of WTO talks agenda.

NFU President Ben Gill and NFU poultry committee chairman Charles Bourns have told Agriculture Minister Nick Brown that animal welfare standards must be a key part of the forthcoming World Trade Organisation negotiations.
In a private meeting, they reminded Mr Brown of the dire situation faced by UK egg and poultrymeat producers. Home poultrymeat producers had seen their market flooded with cheap foreign poultry meat - imports from Thailand alone are currently 88.2% up on the same time last year, with most of it destined for catering outlets and processed foods.
And while the NFU's British chicken and turkey labelling scheme was helping consumers to buy British, the Government must still help encourage customers to consider welfare standards and quality as well as price.
Mr Bourns told the Minister of the likely £200 million capital cost now being faced by UK egg producers following last month's EU decision to implement a raft of legal requirements on cage sizes and stocking densities for laying hens.
He said that if the UK poultry meat and egg industries are to survive, its high standards must be offered some protection from those countries whose production methods fall below those in the EU and the UK.
A key part of the WTO talks must be to ensure that those who choose not to produce to higher standards must not be allowed to succeed at the expense of those that do," says Mr Bourns.
The NFU team also told the Minister that the Government must ensure that all EU countries meet the new standards.



NFU begin campaign to cut farming's red tape

The NFU has begun lobbying at local authority, UK Government and EU Commission level to reduce the level of bureaucracy imposed on the UK's farmers and growers.

The campaign was launched at last month's Royal Welsh Show with the publication of the results of an NFU public affairs department survey which pointed to an industry being slowly strangled by red tape.

"Cutting the Red Tape - an NFU Survey" found that 97% of farmers felt red tape had significantly increased over the last five years. 81 % had experienced an increase in the costs to their business directly as a result of this. All farmers and growers surveyed felt urgent action was needed to restrict the current level of bureaucracy.

One of the worst sources of bureaucracy is the administrative process of CAP. And new proposals for the Beef Extensification Premium Scheme look set to increase the amount of farm paperwork.

Farmers also cited local authority bureaucracy as a concern - including the process and problems linked to obtaining planning permission to re-use redundant agricultural buildings for other business diversifications.

Making life impossible
NFU President Ben Gill told the press at the campaign launch: "British farmers feel they are operating with one hand tied behind their backs. Some common-sense must be injected into the restrictions and regulations under which we operate."
He said that farmers fully agreed that environmental, food safety and animal welfare safeguards were important to maintain consumer confidence - but felt that the duplication, over-complexity and sheer meaninglessness of much red tape was increasingly making life impossible.

The NFU campaign against red tape will include pressure for:

Better co-ordination between and within Government agencies to avoid duplication.
Greater understanding of the demands on fariners'time and the fanning calendar.
Greater support, tolerance and a common sense approach over the completion of
lengthy and complex forms.
A more common sense approach over planning and new business development regulations in rural areas.

He gave the press details of how bureaucracy being faced by British farmers had now reached "absurd" levels.



Free as a bird?  Don’t you believe it.    -    "The Express" (22/7/99)

A smallholder turns spy to expose barbarity in the egg trade.

By Daniel Butler

I live on a smallholding in Wales, where I keep a flock of chickens in as natural a condition as possible. My hens live in small mobile houses which I regularly move to clean ground. They have plenty of space and long grass across their range. They are healthy and happy and in return produce the best eggs imaginable.

This is what most people think they are getting when they pay extra for "free range" eggs. This impression is fostered by the packaging: most boxes carry pictures of happy hens scratching in farmyards or eggs lying In a straw-lined nest. Yet, as someone who keeps chickens in just these conditions, I know it takes a lot of time and effort far more than the extra 50p a dozen that they command over battery eggs. I was intrigued to know how supermarkets could produce the three million free range eggs that we eat every day at such low prices.

But when I asked permission to visit the farms I was refused. This only made me more curious, so instead I spent 18 months working undercover to discover what conditions are really like.

The results were horrific. So-called free range hens are kept almost as intensively as battery birds. They live in huge barns containing up to 16,000 crammed in at the rate of 12 to the square metre. Eggs are collected on con­veyor belts and food and water are piped automatically from vast hoppers. The barns are artificially lit for 16 hours a day to keep the birds laying.

Stress related problems such as bullying are common, so the tips of the birds beaks are routinely removed. They are culled at 72 weeks, when they are too exhausted to lay profitably (battery chickens make it to 90 weeks).

True, they are allowed outside during the day but in practice many choose not to go out. Why should they? Their food, drink and nest-boxes are inside, while the ground outside is scratched bare for 20 yards or so. Worst of all, the birds are more, not less, likely to be fed antibiotics than their battery equivalents: Government figures; show Illegal drugs turn up In 12 per cent of all free range eggs.

This is a long way removed from the pictures on the boxes and amounts to nothing short of a scandalous abuse of consumers good intentions. Farmers and supermarkets know we will pay more for free range eggs, their only concern seems to be how to take the maximum advantage of this. The solution has been to draw up their own definition of free range, while forgetting to tell the consumer.

Worse, Britain's biggest animal charity, the RSPCA, endorses this through its Freedom Foods quality mark which has rapidly become the industry standard, because virtually all the supermarkets  insist on producers  being members. As a result, most big egg farms now pay the RSPCA an annual fee to keep their hens according to conditions, which are based on five core "freedoms" including the freedom to express natural behaviour and to live a life free of pain and distress.

Applied to free range chickens, such claims seem puzzling. Chickens are descended from forest-dwelling jungle fowl that live In small groups in which each knows its place. This strict hierarchy is impossible when they live crammed together in a 16,000 strong flock. Unsurprisingly, the social order breaks down, leading to abnormal behaviour like feather-pecking and cannibalism.

To counter this, the RSPCA endorses routine beak-trimming. This means searing off the end of a seven day old chicks beak with a red hot guillotine. Not only does it undoubtedly cause the chick pain and distress but it also takes away part of its sensory armoury (experts compare the beak to the thumb).

How can the RSPCA claim that its flocks are kept in accordance with its "freedoms"? Easy according to Dr Martin head of the RSPCA's farm welfare division. "The five freedoms around which the act based are formulated by the Farm Animal Welfare Council”, he says.. "All of them are unobtainable in practice; they are ideal states." He goes on to argue that beak-trimming is akin to vaccination, which also causes “temporary discomfort", and to argue the charity has to work with the industry, rather than set impossible goals. .

"The legal free range standard itself is no guarantee of welfare," says the country’s foremost expert, Professor Webster of Bristol University. “At its worst, improperly policed range systems are worse than the battery cage because the birds are more subject to fear, so they're more subject to damage and more of them die."

The Ministry of Agriculture agrees. "The legal free-range standard is no guarantee of good animal welfare," it said in a statement, adding that voluntary codes provided extra safeguards and that farms are regularly inspected and breaches of the rules prosecuted.

Some people want even higher standards. The Soil Association insists on hens living arks of no more than 500 birds (100 is recommended). These are moved annually to allow the ground to rest, while food and water are provided outside to encourage hens to make the most of their surroundings. They are fed organic food and antibiotics are banned. As a result these eggs are expensive £3 a dozen versus 75p for the cheapest lines.

The farmers I interviewed undercover said that as far as their customers - supermarkets - were concerned, price was all-important. This meant that to be commercially viable their farms had to have at least 20,000 birds, housed in high-density flocks

All of them practiced beak-trimming and most admitted that battery chickens probably had a better life than such free range birds. All the same, because the public would pay more these so‑called free range eggs they were expanding activities to cash in on the demand.  

The recent decision to scrap battery cages means that this trend will only speed up. This is bad news for Britain's hens. Worse still, unless the rules are changed, the good intentions of consumers will continue to be abused.




David Maclean's speech on the Foods Standards Bill  

House of Commons (21/6/99)

Mr Davld Maclean (Penrith and The Border): One of the few pleasures that I had after the general election years ago was to listen to some of the speeches by Minister of State.

Before the Minister has a panic attack, I assure him I am not being facetious. I did have the pleasure hearing him speak several times in the House, upstairs and before outside bodies, and it was wonderful to watch enlightenment dawn on him as he discovered that the officials in the Veterinary Medicines Directorate, the Pesticides Safety Directorate and all other parts of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food were perhaps not - as he might have supposed when he was in opposition - autocratic and uncaring for public safety

On various occasions, I heard the Minister vigorously defend the independence, neutrality, impartiality and integrity of his MAFF officials. I have mentioned only two directorates, but I am fairly certain that if I were to ask him to name any part of his Ministry or of the Department of Health where he thought the officials were not doing a proper job and protecting public health, he could not do so. I suspect that, in the past nine months the Minister and his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture have quickly discovered that the officials with whom they have the privilege of working in MAFF are conscientious, are all trying to do their bit to give Ministers proper and intelligent advice, and are not engaged in a ghastly conspiracy with producers, retailers or anyone else to cover up food safety scares.

Mr. Martyn Jones (Clwyd, South): Surely the problem with the previous Government was that they received extremely good advice but ignored it.

Mr. Maclean: There is no truth in that whatsoever. We have the Minister of State's word for it, because there is an extract from Hansard which I keep in files close by me. It relates to the BSE situation. The Minister of State, defending the ban on beef on the bone, said that Ministers had not implemented the beef on the bone ban. This would be the first occasion "in living memory" when Ministers had not followed the advice of their officials.

I believe that the only time I refused to follow the advice of my officials was towards Christmas one year when I was asked to advise the housewife on how to stuff the.turkey. I concluded that it would be unwise for me to issue that advice, because it would be patronising and insulting.

Mr. Rooker:  I shall not argue over quotes from Hansard, but I know what I said that night. I said that it would have been the first occasion when Ministers had knowingly allowed BSE infectivity into the food chain:

"We will not be the first Government knowingly to put infectivity in the food chain. "-[Official Report. 19 March 1998; Vol. 308, c. 1400.)

Later, I added: "The House should think about what the headlines would have been had we been the first Government knowingly to allow BSE infectivity into the food chain. "-(Official Report, 30 April 1998; Vol. 311, c. 445)

I am not saying that the previous Government did it the other way round, but they certainly went in unknowingly.

Mr. Maclean: That too is open to challenge. We may have to wait many months - or, at the present rate of progress, many years - before the inquiry reaches a conclusion on it.

However, I shall not conduct an argument along that route because I think that the Minister would still acknowledge that the advice that Ministers receive from officials is of the highest calibre, and that it did not suddenly change on 1 May 1997. I do not believe that officials gave Ministers in the previous Government duff advice and then thought, "My God - change of Government. We had better start giving proper advice." I make that point because the Minister of Agriculture said today that the new agency would do essentially what is being done now. I believe that that is exactly so.

I do not therefore say that the new agency will be merely cosmetic, but I see nothing fundamentally different about the research that the new agency will do, the advice that it will give, the problems that it will wrestle with and the difficulty of trying to explain the balance of risk to the public. The new agency will do nothing that officials in various directorates and divisions of MAFF and in the Department of Health are not currently doing.

What, then, is the purpose of the new agency? Probably, if the Labour manifesto had not promised to set up the agency, Ministers, with two years' experience of working with those Departments, would not now be promising one. But that is mere speculation. They have made the promise; they intend to deliver on it.

However, I envisage some of the effect of the agency as merely cosmetic: it will be to give the appearance that Ministers are being distanced from food safety decisions. The sole purpose of trying to institute the arm' s length procedure is to try to give a new credibility to ministerial advice or advice from learned scientists on food safety.

The public have become entirely cynical about advice, whether it is on road safety matters from experts, whether it is from my friends down the road in Sellafield advising about nuclear safety, or whether it is from food scientists. There is a highly sceptical public -backed by an even more sceptical media, certain sections of which have a financial interest in keeping the public alarmed all the time. The public may not be reassured about the advice that the new agency gives.

I am worried that the agency might fail in some respects. It will fail not because it will deliberately endanger public health, or because it will take ridiculous risks, or because it will be in a conspiracy with food producers to cover things up, but because it will not reach the high level of public expectation.

I have been reading a survey Conducted by the Consumers' Association. It welcomes publication of the draft Bill, as many other organisations have done. They have done so because they hope that it will be a brave new dawn - that the day the agency takes over, the "meeja", the press and the public will believe everything that it says about the high quality of our food. However, the Consumers Association said that its survey showed that the public's expectation of the FSA was unreasonably high. Ninety-seven per cent of the people questioned wanted a guarantee from the FSA that food was safe. Of course people want that guarantee. They can never have it, under any Government or any agency, no matter whether the agency is stuffed with a million Philip Jameses or a million representatives of the food companies. It can never give that absolute guarantee.

My concern .is that on the first occasion when there is a food safety problem, small or large, or when the Food Standards Agency has to say, "Well, we don't really know. It may be a new strain of campylobacter. To err on the side of safety, perhaps we should withdraw some products, but we are not going to ban the lot," the Daily Express, the Daily Mail, The Sun and the others will say that the agency has failed - it did not clear the shelves and Ministers must intervene.

I see wry smiles on the faces of the Ministers. They know, and the House may admit, that on this occasion I may be right. The expectation that the agency will be a miracle cure-all for the problems of food safety is illogical. I understand the Government's difficulty. They cannot admit that the agency will not meet the public's expectations. They must present the agency as the fulfilment of an important manifesto pledge, and say that the wonderful new agency will do new things. The only new thing seems to be that it will publish ministerial advice. We did not do that - we published its effect and synthesised it into a more easily intelligible and readable leaflet.

The most difficult aspect of dealing with food standards, from my experience, is trying to explain risk. The problem is that in our daily lives we are all happy to take some voluntary risks. We all know about crossing the road - the risks are enormous, compared to the risk of dying from a food-borne illness. We take a huge range of risks and care nothing about them. As a Cumbrian Member of Parliament, I know that the number of people who die in the Cumbrian mountains each year is extraordinary by comparison with the number of people who participate in such sports, and high in relation to other types of accident: yet no one proposes to take drastic action to limit that activity.

When it comes to other risks, we have a very high expectation, for example, that food will be absolutely safe. We want someone out there to guarantee that we will not be subject to the slightest risk. That is an entirely illogical and unreasonable expectation, with which I wrestled as a Minister. I was not successful in. trying to explain the balance of risk.

Ms Keeble: Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that people who go walking in his area are usually fit, and that they are adults? Those who might eat contaminated food include small babies, and the consequences could be catastrophic. It is wrong to contrast the two examples in such an unfavourable light. ·

Mr. Maclean: The hon. Lady misunderstands my point. I used walking in the mountains as an example of risk, but I could have used dozens of other examples of risk that all of us, young and old alike; are willing to take. However, there are certain risks that we are not prepared to take, and we expect someone in authority-society, the Government, "them"- to do something about it and guarantee our absolute safety.

One of those risks relates to food. There is a public expectation and a media expectation that all food, at all times and in all circumstances, will be safe, no matter how incompetently we may deal with it in our own home. I take issue with the Hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), who intervened in the Minister's speech to suggest that intensive animal production was responsible for many of the present food safety problems. That is nonsense. As someone who has seen where free range eggs have lain and what they have lain in, I would never dream of eating one in a hundred years. I would prefer the battery version, purely on a food safety basis. That is quite different from animal welfare.

It is nonsense to suggest that such farm practices are responsible for the increase in salmonella and some of the other forms of food poisoning. We need to look at our food preparation practices and our sloppy handling of food.  

I want to make a couple of other points, Mr. Deputy Speaker, before you cut me off. The first concerns the appointment of independents. If Ministers can find someone who is genuinely independent, I shall be the first to stand up in the House and praise them, but I would bet that I could go through every appointment that they make to the board and say. "Aha! At some time that independent professor of nutrition or food science had a contract with Nestle or some other company."

No one who is any good in food safety or scientific work has not at some time worked for a commercial company, the Consumers' Association, the Rowett research institute or some such body. There is probably no one who is any good who has not published a pamphlet or leaflet on food safety, or his own theory, which some may perceive to be biased, on some aspect of food.

We do not want a futile search for people who are genuinely independent to serve on the board. If the Minister finds people who have never worked for a food company or a research Organisation, they will be so dashed useless that they should not be on the board. We are looking for people who have a wide range of experience, but who do not have bees under their bonnet any more. If the Minister appointed someone from a research institution - even Professor James-and if he still had a bee in his bonnet about nutrition, I would not consider him independent. If he appointed the director of a food company who had a bee in his bonnet about stuffing more salt into food, I would not consider him independent.

The Minister must search for people who come from varied food backgrounds - food production, farming, processing, research, Government or academia. He must find those who can leave aside their personal interests - having declared them all,. of course - and  who do not have bees in their bonnet or preconceptions.

My other concern relates to nutrition. I fear that the agency will become too much of a nagging nanny on nutritional aspects. In that case, it is just as well that Government are putting it at arm's length, so that Ministers can dissociate themselves from the advice that it will give.

In the two years I was Food Minister, most of the expert advice that I issued, based on nutrition advice about red wine, olive oil, salt and sugar was contradicted a few years later by the same scientist or others. I was told, "Minister, you must advise the "whole country to move to a Mediterranean diet." "Very good," I said, "lots more red wine." "Oh no," they said, "eating oily fish." I replied, "Surely the other half is drinking red wine?" We must have balance in our diets.

I agree with the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) on one point. If we are to tackle nutritional aspects, let us not start banning individual foods. Let us not tackle food first. Let us tackle the fact that we are too dashed idle. We do not exercise enough, and we need to deal with the problems of obesity and fitness before we start dealing with food.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselthurst): Order. There I must cut off the right hon. Gentleman.



Activists hail victory for Germany's battery hens "The Guardian"

Ian Traynor in Berlin

Animal rights campaigners scored a victory with wide-ranging implications for the European food industry yesterday when Germany's supreme court ruled that the vast majority of the country's poultry farmers were breaking the law with their practices for egg-laying battery hens.

After three months of mulling the pros and cons of battery farming, the federal constitutional court in Karlsruhe ruled that existing government regulations permitting the confinement of battery hens to tiny cages breached animal protection laws.

More than 80% of Germans are opposed to battery-hen farming and yesterday's verdict was guaranteed mass popular support.

The ruling came amid acute public anxiety about genetically modified food and soaring demand for organic food and after bans on Belgian chickens and eggs and British beef.

While the poultry lobby fiercely protested the verdict and warned that egg producers would take their business out of Germany, leading Greens, Social Democrats and animal rights campaigners hailed the ruling as a triumph for animal rights and consumer protection. They predicted further campaigns against factory farming of turkeys, pigs and cattle.

Under the 1987 government regulations, poultry farmers in Germany have been allowed to practise battery egg production with the hens confined to cages of 450 square centimetres. The same regulations apply in Britain.

"It is generally the case that no one may inflict pain, suffering, or damage on an animal without good reason," the judges ruled. Animal protection legislation already in force compels farmers to "feed the animals appropriately" and provide "accommodation commensurate with the animals' behavioural needs".

The current practice for battery hens meant that the birds could neither rest, feed nor sleep in appropriate conditions, the judges found.

They stipulated that the hens required some 77% more space, or 700sq centimetres in total. The European Commission recently estimated that enlarging the cage area for hens to this level would increase the price of eggs by 18%.

According to a European Union directive issued three weeks ago, poultry farmers have to provide battery hens with 550sq centimetres of space from 2003. Yesterday's ruling put Germany on a collision course with the rest of the EU, since that figure would still fall well below the judges' decision. Under the EU directive, battery hen farming is supposed to be phased out completely by the year 201:2.

"This is a total success," said Barbel Hohn, the Green agriculture minister of the North Rhine Westphalia state which brought the case to the court.

The Social Democratic caucus in parliament hailed the ruling as "a victory for ethics over commercial interests".

But the farming and poultry lobbies in Lower Saxony, the home state of Chancellor Gerhard Schroder, which produces more than a quarter of Germany's eggs, and Bavaria said that the ruling would leave farmers vulnerable to foreign competition.

Across the border from Bavaria, in the Czech Republic, a battery-hen farm is being built to hold 1.2m hens. The Bavarian agriculture minister, Josef Miller, demanded that the Karlsruhe ruling be applied beyond Germany's borders to deny the Czechs competitive advantages.

Some 42m battery hens are kept in Germany, providing 93% of the country's total egg production. Some 78% of eggs bought in Germany are from battery hens, despite public disapproval.

The German Animal Protection Federation immediately announced that it would use yesterday's verdict to push for better conditions for the 6.5m turkeys it says are kept in cruel confinement.

Wolfgang Lower, an expert who testified in defence of the government regulations, insisted that the new ruling would not effect existing battery farms operating within the 1987 regulations.




Serious threat to poultry men     "Farmers Guardian"

POULTRY farmers in America, who can produce eggs 40 per cent cheaper than producers in the UK, pose a serious threat to our industry, warns Shropshire egg producer Julian Madeley.

"US eggs cost 35p per dozen to produce, as opposed to 56p here. Meanwhile costs in the EU are high and continuing to rise," says Mr Madeley.


"Ever-increasing legislation, such as the destruction of battery cages, wiill make us even less competitive and allow more low-cost, low welfare products into the country."

He said while the physical performance of America's laying flock is poor compared with the UK, it is over eight times the size of the UK flock.


· The number of laying hens in the USA has increased from an annual average of 240 million in 1995 to an estimated 262 million in 1999.

Consumption has increased from 234.5 eggs/person/year to an expected 245.5 eggs this year, according to the University of California's Egg Economics Update.  




Feed bans could cost the UK Poultry Industry £130 million


PROPOSED feed bans on the use of GM feed and antibiotic growth promoters could cost the UK poultry industry £130 million a year.
This could open up the UK to a flood of lower cost Imports produced to lower standards
- according to Dr Cooke, recipient of the eighth Temperlon Fellowship for Poultry Research.
In his report, Hazards and Risks of Poultry Production with Particular reference to Animal Feeding Stuffs, Dr Cooke calls for EU and UK authorities to work towards global standards on the use of feed and medicines to establish a level playing field for production.

Levels of control

"The UK and EU poultry Industries are controlled by extensive legislation and policing. However, other countries Importing poultry meat into the EU are not necessarily subject to equivalent levels of control," said Dr Cooke. 

"If all the proposed bans are put In place the additional cost to the Industry would be equivalent to 10p for each broiler and 30p for each turkey produced. A price Increase of this size will result In more imports into the EU from countries with lower production costs.
It is essential that discussions on growth promoters, medicines and the use of GM feed are approached on a global basis," said Dr Cooke.



Call for national shift to organic farming    "AgriAdds"

A NEW REPORT 'The True cost of food' released recently by Greenpeace and the Soil Association call for a change In UK agricultural policy, with a photo-out of Industrial engineering In food and forming and a phase-out of pesticides and other synthetic chemicals.

This report examines the real cost of industrialised farming In terms of human health, animal welfare and the environment and
exposes this vision of agriculture - of which genetic engineering is the latest trend - as fundamentally flawed.
it lays bare the fact that we pay for the consequences of Industrialised farming practices three times over as consumers of increasingly contaminated food and water, as taxpayers, and as potential victims of food related illnesses such as E.coll. The report also stresses the enormous cost to the environment as Intensive agriculture results in massive destruction of natural habitats.

The report claims that current Government agricultural policy embraces irresponsible short-term priorities and falls to respond to public needs. it concludes that the UK Is missing out on the huge commercial potential of modem organic agriculture. The report calls for Industrial farming to be phased out.

The sustainable agricultural policy measures it proposes Include:
• A ban on genetic engineering In food and farming
• A phase-out of artificial chemical inputs.
• Targets for organic conversion - 30% by 2010, in line with European trends and a long-term shift of all our agriculture to organic methods.


lack of support for organic farming from the government mean that less than one per cent of land in the UK Is farmed organically and demand Is outstripping supply. In view of this demand, the Danish Government has proposed a new action plan for its organic farming sector which specifically targets the UK as an export market.
The Danish Government expects to achieve a target of 10% of agricultural production being organic by 2002. Furthermore, the Danish Agricultural Minister has said he expects 50% of Denmark to be farmed organically by 2010. Already 20% of dairy production is organic.

Patrick Hoiden, Director of the Soil Association added: 'The Danes have have the foresight to forge ahead with organic farming at the fringes of its policy. We are about to lose a significant growth sector to foreign competition because of the Government Inaction."
Organic farmer, Nigel Wookey, said: "Despite massive public funding, UK agricultural policy Is failing to maintain farm Incomes. There are also huge question marks over its effects on the environment health and rural employment .... If a tiny proportion of the funds spent on conventional agriculture has been spent on developing organic techniques, organic food would be much cheaper and more widely available,"




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