Commission sets targets to reduce Salmonella in poultry

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Salmonella, European union

The European Commission yesterday set targets for member states to
meet in reducing the presence of Salmonella in poultry, and has
proposed trade bans on eggs from flocks with persistent high levels
of the pathogen.

The rules are in the form of two regulations adopted yesterday. One aims to reduce and control the prevalence of Salmonella in laying hens and eggs across the EU. The second sets out rules on the methods used to control Salmonella in poultry. The Commission said it is also looking into the possibility of introducing a trade ban on eggs from Salmonella infected flocks as soon as possible.

The regulations could help processors weed out the Salmonella pathogen from their supply chain. However if the trade ban approach is adopted it could also serve to restrict their sources of eggs and poultry.

The regulations are part of the overall EU strategy to reduce food borne diseases and is line with a timetable for drawing up Salmonella reduction targets for different animal species, which were set out in a 2003 regulation on zoonoses.

The rules follow the publication in June of a European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) study, which found about one in five of the EU's large scale commercial egg producers have laying hens infected with the Salmonella spp. pathogen.

Luxembourg and Sweden had the lowest levels. The highest rates, ranging from 52 per cent to 80 per cent of holdings, were found in Portugal, Poland and the Czech Republic.

Markos Kyprianou, commissioner for health and consumer protection, said reducing the prevalence of one of the most common food-borne diseases in the EU could cut down the risk the disease poses to public health.

"Reducing the incidence of Salmonella at farm level will lower its incidence through the rest of the food chain, and help meet the ultimate objective of protecting EU consumers,"​ he said.

The new regulation on laying hens should lead to less Salmonella contamination in eggs, the Commission said in publishing the regulations. Every member state will have to work towards reducing the number of laying hens infected with Salmonella by a specific minimum percentage each year, with steeper targets for those with higher levels of the pathogen.

The first target deadline for incremental reduction falls in 2008. The ultimate target is to achieve a reduction in Salmonella levels to two per cent or less.

The regulation also sets out requirements for sampling and testing for Salmonella in laying hens, as well as the procedures for reporting results. It came into force yesterday, giving country regulators six months to submit national control programmes to the Commission for approval and for EU funding.

The Commission has also presented a proposal to member states to speed up the proposed implementation of EU-wide trade restrictions against those with persistent high levels of the pathogen in domestic egg-producing flocks.

"Meeting the targets laid down in today's regulation will help operators to avoid having their products banned from the market in the future,"​ the Commission stated.

The EU's current Zoonoses Regulation, sets out plans that would from 2010 ban completely the retail sale of eggs from Salmonella-infected flocks. Eggs will have to undergo a sterilisation procedure if they are to be used for processing into egg products.

The Commission said it is now considering the feasibility of accelerating the ban on marketing eggs from Salmonella-infected flocks.

" Initial discussions on this issue have revealed generally strong member state support for some sort of trade ban in the near future, and the Commission will look at the options with national food safety experts in September, with a view to reaching agreement as quickly as possible,"​ a press release stated.

The second regulation setting out rules on the methods used to control Salmonella in poultry, includes a requirement for mandatory vaccination from 1 January 2008 onwards for laying hens in states with a Salmonella prevalence of 10 per cent or more.

The vaccinations used must be authorised at EU level, and must be distinguishable from the field bacteria during sampling and testing.

National authorities may exempt a holding from this vaccination requirement provided satisfactory preventive measures are being applied or there has been no incidence of Salmonella on the holding over the previous 12 months.

EFSA has recommended that antimicrobials should not be used for Salmonella control in livestock, due to the public health risks associated with development, selection and spread of antimicrobial resistance.

In addition, if poultry is treated with antibiotics, the detection of Salmonella is difficult, which could lead to a hidden infection in the flock. The regulation bans the use of antimicrobials as part of national control programmes for the control of Salmonella, except under very limited circumstances.

Salmonellosis along with campylobacteriosis, are by far the most frequently reported food borne diseases in the EU. Both diseases are frequently caught through ingesting poultry and poultry products, such as eggs.

At EU-level the presence of any Salmonella spp. was detected in about 31 per cent of the large-scale laying hen holdings surveyed.

The testing did not find the Salmonella spp. species in any large scale commercial egg producers in Luxembourg and Sweden. The maximum level was found in Portugal, where about 80 per cent of the holdings had at least one hen test positive for the pathogen.

Salmonella Enteritidis and Salmonella Typhimurium was found in an average of 20 per cent of the large-scale laying hen holdings tested across the EU, with no cases found in Sweden, Ireland, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Latvia. Meanwhile, about 64 per cent of the egg farms in the Czech Republic tested positive, followed by Poland, where 56 per cent had one or the other species of the pathogen, and Estonia, with 52 per cent testing positive.

Holdings in the UK's were generally at the low end of the scale. About 12 per cent of holdings there tested positive for Salmonella spp. and eight per cent had at least one hen carrying either Salmonella Enteritidis and Salmonella Typhimurium.

By far the most frequently reported zoonotic diseases in humans are salmonellosis and campylobacteriosis, with the most deadly being listerious, according to an European Commission study published last year.

The study found there were 192,703 reported cases of salmonellosis and 183,961 of campylobacteriosis cases reported during 2004 in the EU's 25 member states.

The cases are out of a total of 400, 000 human cases of zoonoses reported. Most of the cases were foodborne and associated with mild to severe intestinal problems.

The EU's new zoonoses directive 2003/99/EC became effective 12 June 2004. Reporting according to the new rules started with data collected during 2005.

Zoonoses are diseases, which are transmissible from animals to humans. The infection can be acquired directly from animals, or through ingestion of contaminated foodstuffs. The seriousness of these diseases in humans can vary from mild symptoms to life threatening conditions.

Similar targets on pathogens have already been set at EU level for breeding hens. The European Commission plans to bring forward separate targets to reduce Salmonella in broiler hens, turkeys and certain types of pigs in the coming years.

Related topics: Food Safety & Quality

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