INTERVIEW: Further Growth Expected for EU Organic Poultry Sector Despite New Feeding Rules.
Despite these issues, poultry farmers continue to explore the potential benefits of converting their operations partly or fully to organic productions. Furthermore, demand for organic products is increasing constantly and more development of European organic poultry production is expected.
Moreover, according to Magdelaine, up until 2009, there was no obligation for a link to the land in the European regulation. The new Regulation states that for all animals: "primarily obtaining feed for livestock from the holding where the animals are kept or from other organic holdings in the same region".
Also in the regulation, explains Magdelaine, "subsidiarity" is replaced by "flexibility": some points are subject to interpretation of each Member State. "Flexibility" is permitted for some exceptional production rules (such as age of slaughter) or derogations in the case of non-availability or some other particular constraints. Each Member State is invited to make its own proposition of interpretation to the Commission.
Magdelaine does, however, believe that some points remain to be discussed like the definition of organic chicks and organic pullets. When organically reared poultry are not available in sufficient numbers, conventionally reared poultry may be brought into an organic poultry production unit, provided that the poultry for meat production are less than three days old; conventionally raised animals have to comply with a conversion period of 10 weeks (70 days). There are no production rules for organic breeders at the moment.
Conventionally reared pullets for egg production of not more than 18 weeks may be brought into an organic livestock unit until 31 December 2011. As for breeders, there are no European production rules for pullets.
DIFFERENCES IN THE RULES' INTERPRETATION
Magdelaine stressed the importance of preserving a balance between crop and livestock production locally. Various organic poultry players, mainly in France, fear that relaxing the link to the land rule will be a long-term liability for organic poultry production. On the other hand, some other countries perceive this aspect of the regulation as a new constraint.
"In the Netherlands, United Kingdom and Belgium, supplying raw materials regionally seems difficult, given the low volume of cereals produced compared to animal production which is more developed. These countries plan to interpret the word "region" quite widely, extending it to 'Europe'. Italy, Denmark and Germany have translated the word 'region' as 'State'", she commented.
The ITAVI researcher also highlighted the fact that the authorisation of parallel animal production (conventional and organic) is a new thing for some countries like France and Denmark. In the other countries, farmers already had the possibility to produce organic and conventional on the same farm, if the species were different and physically separated.
The ban of parallel production is now only kept in some private standards like Soil Association in the UK, BioAustria in Austria and in the German associations. However, the relaxation of the rule offers some new opportunities to farmers in Denmark and France. "However, even though parallel production is no longer banned in some countries, the general trend in Europe seems to be toward enlargement of organic holdings and specialisation in organic farms", said Magdelaine.
With sales worth 5.8 billon [euro] in 2007, Germany is the major EU organic market (1/3 of the total European market), followed by France, Italy and the United Kingdom (40% of the EU global market). Denmark and Austria have the largest share of organic products in global food consumption.
Germany and France are the largest organic egg producers in the EU in terms of volume (with 1.7 thousand laying eggs each). However, if one looks at the share of organic egg production in the total egg production of each country, Denmark and Austria lead the way in the EU, with respectively 14% and 8%.
France is the largest organic chicken producer with 5.3 million heads produced in 2008 (less than 1% of national chicken production), and 6 million heads in 2009, but some European countries such as Germany and Belgium are developing their production. In the UK (third producer), production reached a plateau in 2006, followed by a reduction at the end of 2008 and 2009 because of the increase in the raw feed materials prices and then the financial recession which lead to a drop in.
Magdelaine explained that various structures and kind of organizations in organic production can be found within the EU. Sometimes they co-exist in the same country. In Northern Italy, UK, Germany, Belgium and France, organic production is often a diversification strategy for some conventional poultry or egg companies. The industry is relatively concentrated and usually producers are under contract.
"In France, organised production represents 80% of organic broiler production and 70% of organic egg production. In south Italy, Austria, Germany, Belgium and Poland, independent farmers are producing directly for consumers or via wholesalers. Others are under contract to egg packing centres or slaughter houses such as in Denmark, Austria, Netherlands and Belgium and the UK", she said.
The ITAVI researcher acknowledged the fact that supermarkets play a major role in the marketing of organic products in most countries.
In Austria and Denmark, the increasing demand for organics is due to the investment of supermarkets in this sector, associated with a policy of lowering the prices and a big promotion for organic products. In the UK, 90% of organic products are sold through supermarkets. These supermarkets usually offer their products under their own brand that the consumers trust. In Germany, supermarkets and discounters are also strongly involved in organic products distribution.
In France, in 2008, supermarkets accounted for 42% of the whole organic food market (45% for the poultry market, 58% for the eggs). Some organic shop chains have been set up in the centre of big cities in France or in Germany, where potential consumption is very high. These shops sell mainly organic products produced according to high private standards, and are sourced from the local area.
"In France and Italy, demand from the public authorities for organic products in catering is largely responsible for the rapid development of organic production. In Denmark, Italy and the Netherlands, some industries are very oriented to exporting. The Netherlands, for example, export 80% of their organic egg production to Germany. The organic broiler production recently established in Belgium is also aimed at export markets", added the ITAVI researcher.
Furthermore, financial aids for organic agriculture are part of action plans to develop food and farming. Aids are delivered according to the area; there are not any specific aids for organic animal production. Organic agriculture support is present in all of the countries, but the amount of the aid and the ways in which it is delivered are very different. In most countries, a distinction is made between conversion and maintenance aid. Only the Netherlands do not have state financial aid.
In Poland and Austria, organic production appears as a tool for rural development; in Denmark there is a real organic culture and an environmental concern that makes organic consumption and production take an important place; in Italy and the United Kingdom, organic production is above all a way of diversifying from the conventional offer to provide alternative added-value products to meet the demand of some consumers.
"Distributors also make some promotion for organic food. Some national agencies , such as Agence Bio in France also carry out promotion initiatives. In the French poutry sector, there is some competition between Label Rouge and organic chicken, so its one the reason which can explain the lack of promotion. But things are changing", commented Magdelaine.
"From 2012, the use of agricultural raw materials will be banned and feedstuffs will have to be 100% organic. The challenge for nutritionists will be to obtain well-balanced feed without any conventional raw materials, and to minimise additional costs. A lack in essential amino acids could have negative impacts on technical performances but also negative environmental and animal welfare consequences. Indeed, to reach a sufficient level of amino acids, the rations will have to be richer in crude proteins, and the animals' excretions will have a higher rate of nitrogen", warned Magdelaine.
"What's more, microbial phytase is banned because of the use of genetically modified microorganisms to produce it, even if the final products do not contain them any more. Synthetic methionine is also banned probably because of its chemical manufacturing process or because it is considered like other amino acids produced with genetically modified microorganisms".
Magdelaine did, however, say that different strategies are developped in order to answer this new challenge - the most common solution being an increase in organic soya bean usage in the feed. However, an increase of the soya share in the feed would create a strong dependence on this raw material, which would lead to a problem of availability and price. Organic soya is already in high competition with soya destined to human food.
Another possible solution to compensate for the ban on the use of conventional raw materials in 2012 is the use of fishmeal.
"The use of fishmeal is limited by the obligation for mills to be specialised in monogastric feeds because fishmeal is forbidden for ruminants; and, according to some producers, this gives a bad taste in the final product. This strategy is therefore applicable only for young chickens and pullets. Actually fishmeal allows easily to provide amino acid. Nevertheless, this solution is certainly not a strong point for environment protection and social acceptance", argued the ITAVI researcher.
"Organic gluten corn is already available for food, but it is necessary to organize the same thing for animal feed with a competitive price. Moreover, pea concentrated protein could be proposed with an organic raw material. Nevertheless, leguminous are deficious in methionine and this problem limits its interest".
"The use of egg white has been experienced in Austria, but it remains too expensive to be used on a commercial scale. Others organic raw material should have to be tested such as organic sesame or organic horse bean or new protein sources explored such as organic maize gluten or protein from organic pea", she went on to say.
Magdelaine also stated: "Some of the feed millers we have encountered, thought that authorisation of synthetic amino acids would solve the problem. However, this opinion is not shared by everybody in Europe. Even if the nutritional advantages were recognised by everyone, many industries would not favour their authorisation because of its incompatibility with organic ethics. All of the professionals we met think that the deadline for the 100 % organic feed is too close and does not leave sufficient time to find solutions. They hope for an extension of the derogation allowing a maximum of 5% conventional raw materials in monogastric feed".
Nevertheless, Magdelaine believes that these new ways still have to be explored in more detail.