Consumer confidence in the food supply chain has taken another battering following the discovery of avian flu in turkeys at Bernard Matthews' Holton plant in Suffolk. The discovery resulted in the slaughter of around 159,000 birds and fears that meat from infected birds might have entered the food chain.
As Food Manufacture went to press, scientists from the Veterinary Laboratories Agency in Weybridge, Surrey had confirmed that the outbreak of H5N1 virus from poultry meat in Suffolk was 99.96% genetically identical to that identified in the avian flu outbreak in Hungary and therefore was very likely linked.
In a sign of consumer susceptibility to such food scares, poultry sales in supermarkets fell following widespread press coverage of the outbreak. This was in spite of reassurance from the FSA that the risk of contracting avian flu from cooked poultry was "negligible". Dr Judith Hilton, head of microbiological safety at the FSA, said: "FSA advice has been and remains that avian flu does not pose a food safety risk for UK consumers."
Perhaps of more significance, was the pressure ministers came under from some sources to impose import restrictions on poultry. Such unilateral action would have serious implications for international trade and could hit many other UK food businesses.
The latest incident will inevitably mean far greater attention will in future be paid by consumer groups to the upstream food supply chain - particularly for processed foods made with poultry sourced from as far afield as Thailand and Brazil. Biosecurity and food safety checks on suppliers (see p35) will come under even greater scrutiny.
An international food safety conference was organised by the CIES - the Food Business Forum - in Munich last month before the latest avian flu outbreak. At the event, Frans Muller, a member of German retailer Metro's management board, called for greater harmonisation of controls across national borders. "International approval is necessary to assure quality across borders," said Muller. "We know at the moment the EU is not one harmonised environment."
For the meat supply chain in particular, Muller said there was a need for initiatives, which established rules for hygiene documentation at all levels along the supply chain. "This doesn't work if you only do it in one country."
However, he cited pig production as a good example of high levels of quality assurance and cross border harmonisation of standards of inspection. In the case given, pigs which were born in Belgium, were raised in the Netherlands, slaughtered in Denmark and finally sold in Germany.