FSA says industry must carry campylobacter costs

By Rick Pendrous

- Last updated on GMT

FSA’s Steve Wearne: Reduce reliance on public funding
FSA’s Steve Wearne: Reduce reliance on public funding

Related tags Food standards agency Food safety Fsa

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is looking to transfer the high cost burden of surveying supermarket fresh chicken for contamination with the food poisoning bacterium campylobacter onto the industry itself, as its own budget comes under increasing constraint.

The news emerged today (January 28) at the FSA’s board meeting in London where chief executive Catherine Brown revealed that the FSA had begun discussions with both chicken processors and retailers on how they might make available to the FSA and consumers their own campylobacter test result data.

Such a move would enable the FSA to reduce public funding for monitoring industry progress against the agreed campylobacter reduction target, said Brown. It is part of a wider plan to transfer more of the costs of ensuring food safety in the UK on to food businesses, while reducing the burden on cash-strapped local authorities and the FSA.

Sharing data is ‘absolutely key’

“That​ [sharing data] is absolutely key,”​ said Brown. “The issues around data sharing are, in this example, in a minor element technical and massively about the culture, transparency and openness.”

However, while the industry was willing in theory to share data, she reported, negotiations were still at an early stage. The FSA hadn’t yet really got any “traction​” on the matter, said Brown, beyond “one or two who have started to do the right thing”​.

The FSA’s director of food safety Steve Wearne added: “We’ve convened meetings of all of the retailers and the chicken producers involved in campylobacter reduction under the chairmanship of Richard MacDonald​ [who chairs the Acting on Campylobacter Together group].

And that has been the focus for our discussions with both retailers and processors to challenge them to develop processes and systems whereby we can be assured of the quality of the data they produce; where it is produced to common data standards; and where there is an infrastructure and governance that allows it to be published and made widely available.”

Wearne added that the FSA had also formally written to the British Retail Consortium and British Poultry Council to ask how they could “sit at the centre”​ of this plan and design and deliver systems that allow for sharing data.

Reduce public spending

“Our intention over time is to move from reliance on what is quite a significant amount of public funding that really does nothing more than duplicate the efforts of industry to undertake their own monitoring,”​ said Wearne. “If that industry data was assured and was reported, then we could certainly think about spending that money on something else.”

In her report to the board, Brown congratulated the industry on what it had achieved in the first set of results from the second year of the campylobacter retail survey of fresh whole chilled chickens and their packaging, published last November.

While urging caution, since they represented just one quarter’s results, Brown was encouraged that these results showed – for the first time – a significant reduction of highly contaminated chickens (ie over 1000 colony forming units per gram from 21.7% to 14.9%, compared with the same period the year before; and a reduction of 7.1% for chicken samples positive at any level of campylobacter compared to the same sampling months in 2014.

Campylobacter target missed

But Brown warned that the industry target of less than 10% of birds at the most heavily contaminated level at the end of slaughter was unlikely to have been achieved by the end of 2015, once the verified slaughterhouse data becomes available.

The FSA is also scheduled to publish the second quarter survey results at the end of February.

Foodex Big Video Debate on campylobacter

The Food Manufacture Group will be staging a Big Video Debate on campylobacter at the Foodex event in April. The filmed debate – Combatting campylobacter: the path ahead – will take place at the show on Monday April 18, between 11.00 to 12.00. Email Mike Stones​ for more information. Foodex will take place at the National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham between April 18 and April 20.

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