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.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: UX Consultant

    £35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will be working with a 8 st...

    Recruitment Genius: Part-time Editor

    £8000 - £12000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A unique opportunity has arisen ...

    Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Executive

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An exceptional opportunity has arisen for a pa...

    Recruitment Genius: Kitchen and Bathroom Installers

    £18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This provider of designer kitch...

    Day In a Page

    Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

    Orthorexia nervosa

    How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
    Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

    Lady Chatterley’s Lover

    Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

    Set a pest to catch a pest

    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
    Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

    The dark side of Mexico

    A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
    Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

    Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

    Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border