Raw Chicken

FSA is facing “push-back” from the industry, says Brown

The FSA has vowed to press ahead with “steely determination” with plans to publish quarterly supermarket test results on campylobacter, despite significant “push-back” from retailers.

The Food Standards Agency will test 4,000 supermarket chickens for the food poisoning bug over the next 12 months, with the first results to be published at the end of June. These will identify from which retailer the chicken was bought, the abattoir where it was processed, whether it tested positive for campylobacter and what quantities of the bug were found.

The FSA believes publishing the results will allow consumers to “vote with their feet” and increase pressure on retailers and processors to get a grip on campylobacter. But retailers fear quarterly publication could unfairly suggest some retailers are guilty of poor practice, and want the FSA to wait until all the results are in in a year’s time.

“Publication of survey results is premature whilst government and industry are still working towards a solution and misrepresents the ability for any company to implement more effective measures than another,” said a spokesman at the British Retail Consortium. “Retailers have been working jointly with government and the poultry industry to identify proven interventions to control campylobacter. The research has yet to identify an effective control measure and there are still a number of questions about how campylobacter colonises poultry. Retailers have implemented a number of measures including leak-proof packaging and consumer advice to assist control of cross contamination.”

Richard Griffiths, policy director at the British Poultry Council, added that the industry was on the verge of rolling out rapid surface chilling technology, which promised to be a step change in tackling campylobacter, but currently few tools were available for fighting the bug and positive or negative test results were often “a matter of chance”.

But FSA CEO Catherine Brown told an FSA board meeting last week she would show “steely determination” in putting the quarterly results in the public domain.

“We are experiencing a good level of push-back from people in industry, but we will do it anyway because we know it is in the interest of the consumer,” she said.

A spokesman for the FSA added: “Reducing cases of campylobacter is the FSA’s top food safety priority, but monitoring carried out by the FSA shows there is no evidence of change in the proportion of the most highly contaminated chickens since 2008. There is some resistance from retailers to our plan to publish results quarterly as they would prefer us to wait to release the data set to give a full picture only after the survey is complete in a year’s time. The FSA is committed to improving the amount and quality of information about campylobacter levels that is available at all stages of the supply chain, and will release the first set of data during summer 2014.”