EU relaxation of chicken rules ‘a risk to health’

Unison fears more cases of food poisoning if Europe's poultry farmers get more freedom. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Unison fears more cases of food poisoning if Europe's poultry farmers get more freedom. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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UK CONSUMERS face a heightened risk of food poisoning from chicken purchased in ­supermarkets and restaurants, if the European Commission pushes ahead with plans to remove independent meat inspectors from slaughterhouses across the EU, a union has warned.

A new report published today and containing detailed analysis of food inspections on poultry slaughterhouses across Europe has revealed a catalogue of failings to comply with existing EU standards.

The report comes as the European Commission is set to reject recommendations from an elected MEP committee to keep independent inspections in EU regulations. This would result in no independent meat inspectors being employed across the EU to examine the safety of white or red meat.

The research by Unison, which represents 600 Food Standards Agency (FSA) workers, examined the audits of ­inspections carried out at 72 poultry slaughterhouses between 2010 and 2014 by the European Commission’s Food and Veterinary Office in countries including Italy, France, Romania and Estonia.

It uncovered widespread cases of chicken meat with faecal contamination, mainly as a result of carcasses being sprayed with water on production lines – causing contaminates to spread over a wide area to other meat, as well as to surfaces and equipment.

The report said figures obtained from meat inspectors revealed that three million chickens removed from the food chain between 2012 and 2014 were recorded as being contaminated with chicken faeces.

It said: “By removing independent and state-employed meat inspectors from poultry slaughterhouses, the producer will be the judge and jury of what you will be eating. Not only will this lead to higher rates of contaminated meat ending up on your plates, and those of your children, but also to meat that will repulse us.”

Campylobacter, which is most commonly found in chickens, is the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK, causing 280,000 cases a year.

Unison General Secretary Dave Prentis said: “Many slaughterhouses across Europe are already failing to abide by official standards designed to protect public health. Removing independent inspections altogether could have deadly consequences for consumers, as the meat from chicken is found in many pies, pastries and other products on sale across the UK.

“The people inspecting the meat we eat should be independent of the slaughterhouse owner, who benefits financially from sending as many birds as possible into the human food chain.”

Food Standards Scotland –the public sector food body for Scotland which in April took over the responsibilities previously carried out north of the Border by the FSA – said: “FSS has an official veterinarian present at all slaughterhouses in Scotland at all times when they are operating.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We would expect the EU to ensure there are sufficient regulations in place across Europe to deliver the same high levels of hygiene and food safety.”