VEGA News Item

Bugging the Bird. Fowls in the Campylobacter Goals. - 03/11/2005
We challenge the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to assert itself over microbiological standards with the vigor that the Central Public Health Laboratory (CPHL) exhibited when the terrorists belonged mainly to the salmonella gangs.

Re: Reducing campylobacter in UK-produced chickens

1. A blurred baseline and an even more uncertain end-point (e.g. severity of illness and disability) make for much effort to reach questionable targets and scores that will exercise consumers and politicians but will be of dubious quality for establishing longterm benefits and standards of husbandry and food production. We and others have made this observation before and the present consultation confirms our misgivings. We would prefer to see in this case running surveys and tests along the food chain at points from farm (or even before to breeding units) to fork, which could be compared with the best on a global basis and allow for analysis of environmental practices and animal husbandry, as well as of manufacturing procedures, HASS and veterinary inspection.

2. However, we note the FSA’s involvement in scoring on comprehensive basis, e.g. in the MHS's HASs, ratings on filth on a animals presented for slaughter, and for markers of the nutritional values of foods. Scoring seems suitable for eating and drinking places, such as restaurants and pubs. Advances in traceability and in informative labelling (or availability free by IT) might be improved to allow early interpretations of short and longterm trends and give consumers and retailers information to stimulate a healthier supply and demand.

3. Campylobacters come in several forms with different pathogenicities. Others may erupt into significance in a long-term study. They may crop up in different sites and from different sources, e.g. as the market in imported poultry changes or as a scourge (such as avain flu) inflicts an overwhelming stress. In terms of risks to consumers we wonder whether choking on meat bones or even death is a factor in accidents in the home (and eating out) to set significantly against this “single” zoonotic and pathogenic microorganism. In the case of campylobacter (and probably salmonellas and yersinia spp) we cannot cont the harm to consumers of delayed reactions in the form of reactive arthritides and neurological dysfunction, such as Guillan-Barré disease).

4. In terms of standards of animal welfare and consequences in the food chain the FSA need go no further than proceed with a follow-up of a recently-published report on the incidence of hock burn evident on broiler and oven-ready carcases exhibited in retail outlets. The FSA would thus enable disseminating customers to make well-informed choices among the array of fowl carcases packed in wrappers festooned with claims to organic, freedom foods, label rouge etc and at different prices.

5. We regret the withdrawal of the PHLS from the running of the campaign on zoonotic diseases and the overuse of farming drugs and the consequences in the spread of resistant bacteria. Their campaign before and after the Swann report was excellent and radical. We would like to se more evidence of their participation in present campaigns. One of our Trustees meets Dr Bernard Rowe from time to time; he remembers vividly his delight that Dr Rowe, then at the PHLS and speaking officially and when the toll of multiresistant types of the salmonellas were a major scourge, warned that the ham to society arose from the greed for cheap animal protein. The FSA must take the courage to proclaim its disgust at this besmirched and devalued part of the food industry. Eruption of BSE was another awful instance of degraded standards in an evil industry the PHLS exposed many years ago but still the FSA turns a blind eye and even connives at hefty benefits to it from public funds. And still colostrum –deficient week-old calves inaptly drugged go through markets and dealerships in present-day farming systems. These hotbeds of transmissible diseases spread harm into other animal species. Campylobacter may be a pathogenic bacterial species not confined in a tight zoonotic cycle in which poultry are uniquely involved and under even more intensified threat from avian flu, but forthright dietary pronouncements over persistent evils in the food chain are more urgently needed than artificially isolated markers of the greater evil.


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