Special Edition: Grain Market Developments

UK organic poultry sector challenged by sunflower meal supply constraints

By Jane Byrne contact

- Last updated on GMT

© istock
© istock

Related tags: Organic food, Europe, Organic farming

The delisting of the certification body supervising organic production in Ukraine has left UK organic poultry producers with sourcing headaches.

All of the sunflower meal, and a high percentage of the wheat and maize, used by the organic poultry industry in the UK used to come from that country.

But due to contaminant challenges leading to supply constraints in Ukraine, a flow of organic sunflower cake and other raw materials from that market can no longer be relied on for UK organic poultry production.

Paul Poornan, CEO of UK specialty poultry feed compounder, Humphrey Feeds, told this publication:

“We had been sourcing from Ukraine for a number of years as most of the organic raw material supply in continental European was being mopped up by countries with large organic sectors such as Germany and Austria.

“But around two years ago there was a pesticide issue in Ukraine and people started realizing that the sunflower meal from there was perhaps not as organic as it should be. Subsequently, the EU dropped on Ukraine producers like a ton of bricks and decertified most of the organic production then.”

The proceedings of a 2015 anti-fraud conference report​ show that, during the summer and autumn of 2014, different shipments of Ukrainian organic sunflower cake were found to be contaminated with unapproved pesticides.

The sunflower cake was used for making feed and was already widely distributed. The feed and, in some instances, the animals and eggs had to be withdrawn from the market. The incident damaged the image of Ukraine as a source of organic products.

As a result of the sunflower cake case, the EU Commission issued an alert and the certification body responsible for the sunflower cake was suspended and later withdrawn from the list of recognized bodies for EU imports.

So, while efforts are underway to recertify organic production in Ukraine, the supply of sunflower meal from Ukraine has, more or less, dried up, explained Poornan.

Amino acid unbalance

It is said some UK organic poultry feed compounders are compensating for the lack of sunflower expeller, which critically contains methionine, by including additional amounts of soy, imported from China, in the feed formulations for layers and broilers.  

“But too much soy can create an unbalance in terms of amino acid levels in the birds’ diets,”​ said Poornan.

So far, Humphrey Feeds has managed to source substitutes effectively, and the company has met its various customers’ needs.

UK organic feed manufacturers, he added, are working hard to find new raw material sources from places like Romania and other parts of Eastern Europe. “We are increasingly getting raw materials like wheat in 3,000 ton parcels from different regions,”​ said Poornan.

EU platform 

Tom Nizet and Antoine Fauré, from the European Organic Certifiers Council (EOCC), an umbrella group for cooperation between all organic certification bodies in Europe, has had, due to the sunflower case, a Ukraine platform since June 2015.

They told an anti-fraud conference​, in September 2015, that there are problems in Ukraine with contamination of products in storage, with fraudulent selling of non-organic as organic and also there is insufficient knowledge about organic agriculture and its rules throughout the supply chain.

The EOCC is working with organic producers in Ukraine, with the goal of developing the sector there, but according to the 2015 report by Nizet and Fauré, real time inspection is required.

UK organic market post Brexit

Meanwhile, Steve Jacobs, business development officer at UK organic certifying body, Organic Farmers & Growers (OF&G), acknowledged the raw material sourcing challenges UK organic poultry producers have, but said the UK organic sector has very good standing globally. “We need to play to our strengths. We need to develop supply and develop the market.”

OF&G, he said, is in continuous talks with the UK department for environment, food and rural affairs, DEFRA, on ensuring the post EU referendum landscape takes account of the benefits of organic, and conventional, food production to the UK economy. “Farm businesses have not being given sufficient value in the negotiations up until now. We want more support. We are in regular contact with DEFRA to make sure the set of organic standards in the UK post Brexit have equivalence with those in the EU and the US,” ​said Jacobs.

The Soil Association’s Organic Market Report 2016​, looking at the overall sector in the UK, showed sales of UK organic eggs and poultry continue to rise.

It cited figures from Nielsen indicating sales of organic eggs have grown by 2.6% and poultry has increased by 13.1% in comparison to figures for 2015. 

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