Industry worth £2 billion a year

The East Anglia poultry industry is worth an estimated £2bn to the regional economy and employs about 10,000 staff from farm to processing factories.

The East Anglia poultry industry is worth an estimated £2bn to the regional economy and employs about 10,000 staff, from farm to processing factories.

The industry, which has around

53 million birds on the National Poultry Register in the region, is a major consumer of cereals. And the production of arable crops, especially feed wheat, is a valued market for farmers.

While the turkey industry is dominated by Great Witchingham-based Bernard Matthews, which has 57 turkey farms across East Anglia, there are other significant players in chicken production and processing.

Matthews, which employs 4,500 staff, had a turnover of £450m last year and has produced an ever wider range of products from its Holton, Halesworth, factory.

A handful of staff are employed at the rearing farm, which adjoins the Holton processing factory. There, about 1,000 staff process turkeys into fresh and frozen products or a range of breaded poultry.

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More than 17 million turkeys were produced for the food chain, according to the National Poultry Council, although demand at Christmas tends to drive the market.

Across the region, there are other big employers, including Attleborough-based Banham Poultry. It had a turnover last year of £60m and employed 650 staff, who process chickens from the firm's 33 poultry- rearing operations, which are almost all in Norfolk.

There are other significant operators, including Crown Chicken, which is based near Quidenham, and employs about 300 staff with a turnover of £44m.

In Suffolk, John Rannoch, of Stowmarket, has about 1,100 staff involved in a £100m business, while Grampian has large operations at Haverhill and in west Norfolk near Stoke Ferry.

The poultry industry is also still trying to cope with the impact of last spring's bird flu outbreak, which cost the industry an estimated £58m in lost revenue through loss of sales and big reductions in prices.

The National Farmers' Union has been pressing Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) and MPs for a three-year waiver on costs for new regulations including the new Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) rules.

NFU poultry board chairman Charles Bourns said: "The moral argument for this request by the industry is simple. By refusing to apply for EU financial assistance towards the £58m that avian influenza has so far cost poultry farmers, the government has left the industry in a situation where it simply cannot afford to pay the IPPC charges.

"The government's failure to support the claim cost poultry farmers at least £8m in EU support. And what really rubbed salt in the wounds was the fact that they actually supported compensation for poultry farmers in 14 other EU member states."

But last night, consumer confidence was at the heart of farmers' concerns as industry figures said unfounded concerns surrounding the safety of poultry meat may dent sales.

They urged customers to heed Defra advice which said no infected birds had entered the food chain.

A British Retail Consortium spokesman said: "It is probable that there will be some knock-on effects in terms of sales. But a lot of retailers will start moving to reassure the public of the safety of the product."