Round table: achieving science-backed sustainable poultry production in the EU


The debate organized on October 11 by AVEC in partnership with Agra Facts and Elanco Animal Health tackled the issue of sustainability from multiple aspects (policy, industry, and research perspectives) for the European poultry sector. 

Philippe Caldier, independent journalist –

For the organizers of this hybrid conference, “understanding the sustainability potential of conventional poultry systems calls for an evidence-based and holistic approach. The growing demand for food, satisfying societal demands, and guaranteeing access to high-quality and affordable food and micronutrients for all consumers has become critical, particularly for consumers that are under financial pressure, including the low-income population in the EU27.”
This was the framework of this ‘tight debate for the sector’ followed by more than 250 professionals on line and moderated by Rose O’Donovan, Editor of Agra Facts.

Many challenges
For Magdalena Kowalewska, Senior Food & Agri Sector Analyst at BNP Paribas, the European poultry sector is facing many short and middle-term challenges, such as the war in Ukraine, with many consequences on the grain and poultry market, the Avian Influenza crisis which limits exports or the Corporate Sustainable Directive. “According to it, 70% of the European poultry processing industries will have to report by 2025 about their greenhouse gas emmissions and we still have no methodology to calculate them,” said Magdalena Kowalewska. “In spite of a decrease of profitability of production for the farmers,  poultry is still the cheapest protein for the consumer, with a possible increase in the capita consumption in the future.”
“The problem is that we need to have a clear definition of sustainability”, said on the other hand Joe Moran, Director of European Policy Office at Four Paws who explained that sustainability was first focused on climate issue, and then on animal welfare.
“We need to have a much more holistic picture of sustainability, with a balanced approach needed where all three pillars, environmental, social and economic, are considered”, completed Birthe Steenberg, Secretary General AVEC who mentioned that there is a very little focus on the consumer in the EU Farm to Fork strategy. “We need consumers to be educated and to talk much more and to listen to them”.

Sustainability charter
Despite the complexity of the subject covered, the conference focused on practical achievements made by the European poultry industry. “A lot has been done with our Sustainability Charter launched after Covid and discussion has not ended”, explained Birthe Steenberg who announced the holding of a conference on November 29 to present what has been done about sustainability in three European poultry processing companies from three countries.
“We have been loading data about welfare indicators of billions of birds since 2017”, explained then Janet Helms, Senior Manager Global Sustainable Sourcing, Animal Health and Welfare at Mc Donalds, with various conclusions: the reality varies among suppliers, the good management of the farms is the key. “We have to improve the key indicators to follow what happens day by day in the farms, we are committed to learn more about sustainability and to share our learnings”, said her colleague Floor Uittenhoove, who added: “we have to look to other aspects such as carbon emissions or deforestation and to balance them to aim healthy birds and a safe and affordable food supply for our customers.” 

To be more pragmatic
Regarding the EU legislation about sustainability and welfare and the new CAP, the conference was a bit disappointing. “We could do more about animal welfare but it should fullfil to the needs of the Member States”, said Joanna Stawowy from DG Agri who added: “we have to find a common ground between stakeholders, to work on better tools to measure animal welfare and to take in account the reality of poultry production.” Regarding sustainability, Joanna Stawowy estimated that more has been done in dairy compared to poultry production. “We need more constructive dialogue with the European Commission”, said Birthe Steenberg, remarks supplemented by those of Joe Moran who pleaded “for a more pragmatic and simpler approach to the European legislative framework on animal welfare”. “We must verify that the drug does not kill the patient”, added Joe who estimates the next CAP round should allow for much more support for the poultry farmers.