Poultry firms ‘must act’ on food bug

Poultry industry ‘must act’ over food poisoning bug

FSA research suggests two-thirds of shop-bought chicken is contaminated with campylobacter

The poultry industry must “take responsibility” for tackling the UK’s most typical source of food poisoning, the manager executive of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has said.

A BBC investigation has revealed cases of campylobacter are increasing, with about 500,000 people a year infected.

FSA figures suggest between 60% and 80% of cases may be attributed to chicken.

The British Poultry Council said it was doing everything it will probably to cut back the danger of infection.

In her first interview since taking on the post in October, FSA chief executive Catherine Brown told BBC Radio 4’s Face the Facts programme the human and economic burden of the present situation was unacceptable.

She said: “Industry should take responsibility to sort this problem out. There’s work happening, but i’ve flagged up concerns concerning the pace of progress with the poultry industry.

“There’ll be costs to all the interventions required to unravel this problem. Some can be passed directly to the shopper.

“But there are costs to the location because it is now. Both huge economic costs and fees when it comes to human health and suffering.”

The FSA’s latest research suggests about two-thirds of raw shop-bought chicken is contaminated.

Even when a flock is identified as having the bacteria, the birds can still be sold for human consumption considering that, properly handled and correctly cooked, they present no risk to human health.

There are three categories of contamination. Some 27% of birds are currently within the highest category.

There is now a target to scale back this to ten% by 2015, which it’s hoped would result in greater than 100,000 fewer cases of campylobacter poisoning.

Peter Bradnock, chief executive of the British Poultry Council (BPC), said he acknowledged that chicken was a significant source of campylobacter and added that the industry is operating on a variety of interventions to satisfy this target.

“The producers and the processors realise that we’ve got a responsibility to cut back to absolutely the minimum any possible risk which may be passed directly to the buyer, in order that after they buy food it is the safest it may be.

“We will be able to cope with this, and we’re doing something about it.

“We’re rearing systems, at whether there are campylobacter resistant breeds of chicken.

“We are not awaiting someone to inform us the answers, we’re actually in there, trialling these different interventions which might be popping out of scientific projects and trialling them on real farms,” Mr Bradnock said.

For most, the affects of campylobacter poisoning are severe diarrhoea and vomiting.

In 2009 however, greater than 17,000 people in England and Wales were admitted to hospital and 88 people died.

The selection of laboratory-confirmed cases of campylobacter poisoning reached a high of nearly 72,000 in 2011, although many more cases go unconfirmed.

Campylobacter – the “silent epidemic”, can be broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s Face the Facts programme at 12:30 GMT on 16 January.