Call for more funds to tackle campylobacter

If campylobacter was turning poultry meat green, the issue would have been resolved by now, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) board was told yesterday.

Held in Aberdeen, board members were embroiled in talks about a recent paper written to tackle campylobacter in the poultry industry.

There was a general call for more money and time to be pumped into the reduction of the bug, but a need to take the issue more seriously was also brought forward by one member. “When I read the paper I was slightly despondent because I do not get the sense of urgency,” said board member Etta Campbell. “When looking back at E.coli, we really meant what we said.”

Industry-wide culture

Meanwhile, co-author of the paper Steve Wearne said there was a need to achieve a culture across the whole food chain where reducing the bacteria was a focus. Plans in the paper aim to dramatically reduce campylobacter in chicken on sale in shops, which in 2007/08 was at 65%.

“We have been monitoring campylobacter levels of chickens for more than 12 months and our analysis shows there has not been a significant change from the plan in 2008,” said Wearne. “We are all disappointed by the lack of impact from the work we have done at the time.”

Positive impact

However, others were positive about the paper and the impact it would have on consumers, who are suffering as a result of campylobacter. Board member Roland Salmond suggested the actions outlined in the paper went “beyond our responsibilities to deliver safe food to the UK”, while Jeff Halliwell, another board member, described it as the most “important paper that has come to the board in many years”.

Yet emphasis was placed on the consumer being the main beneficiary and not the industry.

Public news

In order to outline the consumer as the focal point, FSA chief executive Catherine Brown and British Poultry Council (BPC) chief executive Andrew Large discussed the issue on BBC Breakfast yesterday.

Both stressed the importance of consumer education in kitchen hygiene and the thorough cooking of chicken, which was also highlighted in the paper.

Large said to BBC presenters: “Campylobacter is a naturally occurring bacterium and we need to make every effort to minimise risks of food-borne infection to the consumer.

“We fully recognise our responsibility to deliver safe food to consumers and we’re working in partnership with the FSA, retailers and all members of the Joint Working Group on campylobacter to reduce risks associated with chicken.
“It’s important to remember that proper hygiene in the kitchen and thorough cooking makes chicken entirely safe to eat.”