Food-poison warning over organic chickens

Free-range and organic chickens are twice as likely as battery hens to be contaminated with food-poisoning bacteria, a government-funded study for the Food Standards Agency has found.

More than 99 per cent of organic flocks are infected with campylobacter – potentially serious food-borne bacteria – compared with 56 per cent of conventionally reared chickens. Out of 75 free-range flocks, 69 were infected.

The agency tried to play down the findings yesterday, saying they were preliminary. And the Soil Association, which certifies organic farmers, said there was no evidence that the campylobacter strains found in chickens could lead to food poisoning.

But the agency said chickens were a major source of campylobacter and the micro-organisms were an important cause of food-borne disease. "Poultry plays a significant part in exposing humans to campylobacter organisms and reducing the number of campylobacter positive chickens on retail sale is likely to be an important step in reducing human infections," it said.

Tom Humphrey, a professor of food safety at Bristol University, released details of the poultry survey at a scientific meeting on organic food organised by the agency. All the contaminated birds identified by the study were destined for human consumption.

The findings closely match the results of a similar survey in Denmark which showed that organic chickens were up to three times more likely to contain food-poisoning bacteria, undermining claims that organic food is safer than conventional produce. The Soil Association said the British and Danish studies had not tried to distinguish the strains of campylobacter that can cause food poisoning from those that were harmless. The agency said: "Our understanding of which types of campylobacter cause disease in humans is still developing and we will be funding work to address this. There is a considerable body of evidence implicating chicken as a source of campylobacter infection in people."

Free-range and organic chickens that are allowed to roam outdoors are possibly more likely to be exposed to outside sources of campylobacter. Good kitchen hygiene and thorough cooking of meat can significantly reduce the risk of human infection.

The Soil Association said: "Humans and chickens have large numbers of bacteria in their intestines most of which are not just harmful but beneficial. There are hundreds of strains of beneficial campylobacter and only a very small number can lead to food poisoning." The association said that even if organic chickens were contaminated with campylobacter, the bugs were unlikely to be resistant to the antibiotics used to treat serious campylobacter infection.

"This is because the routine use of the equivalent veterinary drugs is prohibited and the extensive approach tends to reduce the incidence of other diseases for which intensive farmers need to use antibiotics," it said.

The agency is developing a strategy for the reduction of campylobacter in poultry which is has promised to publish next year. It is already committed to cutting salmonella levels in chicken by half. The national average level for salmonella infection in poultry is about 6 per cent.

ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

    £13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

    £18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

    Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

    £20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power