FSA defends campylobacter ‘name and shame’ U-turn

By Laurence Gibbons contact

- Last updated on GMT

 The FSA has defended its decision to reverse its decision on naming retailers and processors that sell chickens with high levels of campylobacter contamination
The FSA has defended its decision to reverse its decision on naming retailers and processors that sell chickens with high levels of campylobacter contamination

Related tags: Food safety, Food standards agency, Fsa

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has defended its decision, made at yesterday’s (July 23) board meeting, to reverse its decision to ‘name and shame’ retailers and processors that sell chicken contaminated with high levels of campylobacter.

It is too early to disclose campylobacter results for named poultry processors and retailers as they cannot be interpreted in a meaningful way unless they are from a full year of sampling, FSA’s director of policy Steve Wearne claimed.

The FSA had been called on to release the full data by Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd, who claimed the information was in the public interest.

“Tackling campylobacter has to become a much bigger priority for supermarkets and their suppliers as it is responsible for thousands of cases of food poisoning and the deaths of 100 people every year,”​ Lloyd said.

“It’s therefore disappointing that the FSA has gone back on its commitment to publish in full the quarterly data on the levels of campylobacter in supermarket chickens, when it is clearly in the public interest to do so. The FSA must put consumers first and operate more transparently than this.”

In an open letter to FSA chairman Tim Bennett, Lloyd said the FSA should not sit on the survey data which it initially intended to publish in full.  

An FSA survey of campylobacter contamination in poultry, started in February, involves testing around 4,000 samples of whole, fresh chickens over a 12-month period.

Would release the results

The FSA had stated it would release the full results – including the names of retailers and processors – of testing of around 1,000 samples every three months during the survey.

The first results were set to be published around June/July.

But the FSA ruled it would release the first quarterly results without company names in the next few weeks.

“The FSA is committed to publishing the full results from its survey of campylobacter on shop-bought chickens, including names of retailers and processors,”​ a spokeswoman said.

“However, quarterly results cannot be interpreted in a meaningful way, so breaking results down by retailer and processor at this stage could mislead consumers. The FSA board agreed with this position ​[yesterday (July 23)] but called for the final results to be delivered sooner than previously planned.”

The FSA is now considering how to revise the survey sampling so that full results can be delivered more quickly, she added.

Wearne said at the FSA's board meeting yesterday: “There has been legitimate concern expressed by industry and other government departments that publication of incomplete data, consisting of the results of a single quarter’s sampling and analysis with retailers and producers identified for each sample, would facilitate misinterpretation of the interim data.”

This could risk third parties compiling ‘league tables’ that would not be statistically valid or supportive of any conclusions drawn from such tables, he added.

Andrew Large, ceo of the British Poultry Council (BPC), told FoodManufacture.co.uk he agreed with the FSA’s decision to hold off publishing the full results.

‘Clear picture of the industry’

“If data is published too early it could mislead consumers and lead to the wrong conclusions being made,”​ he added, “We need to make sure that when data is published it gives a clear picture of the industry.

“The ball is now back in the FSA’s court to collect sufficient samples and data to make sure we are not distorting the information.

Campylobacter is the number one cause of food poisoning in the UK, with about 280,000 cases every year, according to the latest FSA data.

Meanwhile, poultry processor Bernard Matthews’ group technical director, Jeremy Hall, will discuss ways to reduce the pathogen at the Food Manufacture Group’s Food Safety Conference on October 15 2014 in Warwickshire.

For more information and to book your place at the conference, click here.

 

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