How the Brazilian poultry industry is adapting to changing European demands
Brazil is the biggest exporter of poultry on earth, accounting for 26% of global cross-border trade in 2017.1 That dominant market position comes with responsibilities. With the industry producing close to 13m tonnes of poultry, employing 3.6m workers and providing food for many more people, the actions of Brazilian farmers affect the health of animals, the environment and humans. Recognising that, the Brazilian poultry industry is working to maintain the standards that made it a global leader.
Over the past 20 years, Brazil has scaled up poultry production to meet rising global demand. In 2006, Brazil produced just over 9m tonnes of poultry a year, according to animal protein association the ABPA. By 2011, the figure had risen to 13m tonnes. Output has stayed around that level ever since.
The increase has cemented Brazil’s status as the second largest producer of poultry on earth, after the US. However, Brazil exports a larger proportion of its poultry meat. In 2018, Brazil exported 4.1m tonnes of poultry meat — around one-third of total production — worth $6.6bn. The exports helped to meet Europe’s demand for poultry meat. In 2017, Europe imported almost $10bn worth of poultry meat.1
In Europe, the Netherlands is the biggest importer of Brazilan poultry, taking shipment of more than 126,000 tonnes of meat in 2018. The UK, Germany and Spain are the next three countries on the list, importing between 18,000 and 61,000 tonnes each in 2018.
The Netherlands and other European countries import poultry from Brazil as demand for the meat within their borders exceeds their production capacity. Export quotas between Brazil and European countries means the amount of poultry that can arrive on the continent is capped, ensuring there is no risk of suppliers flooding the market.
Fitting Brazilian practices to European needs
The widespread consumption of Brazilian poultry in Western Europe means producers in the South American country are subject to scrutiny by consumers and regulators. Today, a growing proportion of people in Western Europe want poultry meat to be more than just tasty and affordable; they also want to know that it has been produced in alignment with their ethical and environmental standards.
Surveys run from 2013 to 2019 show a rising number of people in the UK factor the environmental impact of meat production into their food purchasing decisions.2,3 Animal welfare also remains an ongoing focal point for many consumers, although there is evidence that taste and freshness still take precedence over all other factors that influence meat buying decisions.4
These trends mean consumers now expect more from their meat producers. To assess whether the Brazilian poultry industry meets the raised expectations of European consumers, the ABPA undertook an independent on-site analysis the food safety, sustainability and animal health and welfare standards of facilities in the country.
The analysis showed the integrated system of poultry production that emerged in Brazil in the 1960s is a good fit for the ethics of modern consumers.5 In the integrated system, which accounts for 90% of industrial poultry output in Brazil, the production chain is consolidated to harmonise the work of farmers and meat packers. The system allows farmers, with the help of agronomists and vets, to focus on animal welfare and biosecurity while industry partners provide chicks, feed and medicine.
It found birds are kept in units with natural light that are big enough for them to move around and perform their natural behaviours. Farmers provide chickens with high-nutrient feed based on soya and corn grown close to their farms, resulting in a short local supply chain. Hormone use in poultry is banned in Brazil and the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply enforces controls on residues.6
The mild climate in Brazil means farmers can keep poultry at optimal temperatures without heating the units in which they are kept. Farmers source bio-energy from planted forests, not the Amazon, and get their electricity from a grid that uses hydroelectricity. The upshot is that, by one calculation, rearing a chicken in Brazil and shipping it to the UK releases less carbon dioxide than raising a chicken in the UK for local consumption.7
The ABPA also assessed the actions farmers take to protect chickens and consumers, finding the industry has biosecurity measures and food safety standards in place. The biosecurity controls, which are enforced by the Ministry of Agriculture, have helped Brazil to stay free from avian influenza. Similarly, the ABPA found Brazilian facilities follow hazard analysis and critical control points protocols and review internal controls several times a year to ensure their products meet European safety standards.
Gathering expert input to maintain standards
The facility analysis and earlier assessment of the needs of the European market are part of a wider ABPA effort to ensure the Brazilian poultry industry keeps pace with changing regulatory standards and consumer demands. The third piece of that effort is a scientific committee set up by the ABPA.
The main role of the committee is to provide scientific analysis, recommendations and opinions to the ABPA, with a focus on maintaining the high standards already in place and continuing to meet European requirements and consumer expectations in terms of the environment, food safety and animal health and welfare.
Although the scientific committee was established as part of an initiative by the ABPA, it is an independent body in order to promote complete transparency and confidence that best practice standards are maintained in the Brazilian poultry industry. The scientific committee consists of five industry experts from Europe and Brazil.
With the support of the scientific committee, the ABPA is working to ensure Brazilian poultry continues to live up to the standards that have turned into a staple on dinner tables across Europe.
1. OEC - Poultry Meat (HS92: 0207) Product Trade, Exporters and Importers. Available at: https://oec.world/en/profile/hs92/0207/. (Accessed: 29th November 2019)
2. Eating Better YouGov Survey quick analysis – April 2019. Eating Better Available at: https://www.eating-better.org/uploads/Documents/2019/YouGov%20survey%20analysis%20PDF%20for%20web.pdf. (Accessed: 29th November 2019)
3. New survey shows support for Eating Better messages. Available at: https://www.eating-better.org/blog/new-survey-shows-support-for-eating-better-messages. (Accessed: 29th November 2019)
4. Strengthening European Food Chain Sustainability by Quality and Procurement Policy. Strength2Food Available at: https://www.strength2food.eu/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/D8.1-Consumer-analysis-on-food-quality-schemes-compressed-protected.pdf. (Accessed: 29th November 2019)
5. The sage of the Brazilian poultry industry. Brazilian Chicken Available at: http://www.brazilianchicken.com.br/files/publicacoes/e3b41c2f61fc671c0ae912bc73735886.pdf. (Accessed: 29th November 2019)
6. Brazilian Chicken. Available at: http://www.brazilianchicken.com.br/en/poultry-industry/animal-health. (Accessed: 29th November 2019)
7. Brazilian Chicken. Available at: http://www.brazilianchicken.com.br/en/poultry-industry/sustainability. (Accessed: 29th November 2019)