The British Poultry Council has issued a firm response to an article in the Guardian newspaper which questioned health and hygiene standards in the UK poultry sector.
The article Your Sunday roast chicken should carry a health warning by John Allan and Stephanie Lavua was published on 16th August.
In response to the allegations in the article the BPC's veterinary advisor sent the letter below for publication on 20th August and addressed the inaccuracies in the piece.
The article "Your Sunday roast chicken should carry a health warning" (August 16th) discusses campylobacter, a subject that is rightly of concern. It is a shame therefore that on such an important topic, fundamental errors of fact have been allowed to remain that serve to undermine the case being made.
In relation to the farming of chickens, it is stated farmers "pump them full" of enriched feeds and drugs. This is simply not true. Birds can eat as much or as little as they want, without any compulsion, and the feed formulation provided has been specifically designed by specialist poultry nutritionists to match the genetic and physiological requirements of the birds. Antibiotic growth promoters have been banned in the UK for many years, and any medicines administered to the birds are prescribed according to guidelines produced by the Responsible Users of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA). These guidelines state that "Antimicrobial use should not be used simply to prop up poor husbandry or failing management systems. Where required, antimicrobials should be viewed as an acceptable veterinary treatment complementing good management, good nutrition, vaccination, biosecurity and farm hygiene" These guidelines make it clear that antimicrobials are only given to poultry following the advice of a prescribing veterinary surgeon.
The comments on the removal of food and water prior to catching are erroneous. Birds have access to water up until the moment of catching. As regards food, it is true that feed is withdrawn prior to catching to ensure that the digestive tract of a bird is devoid of food material at the time of slaughter. This is an important management process to minimise spillage of intestinal contents during the slaughter process. This feed withdrawal time will vary according to the time between catching and slaughter and will be in part dependant on the journey time from farm to the slaughterhouse, but usually the maximum feed withdrawal time would be 8 hours and not the 24 hours that the article implies. It would be contrary to both UK and EU law (The Welfare of Farmed Animal (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2010) to withdraw food and water for 24 hours before slaughter and UK broiler producers work within the law.
It is also wrong to say that birds are deprived of sleep for 24 hours in advance of catching. The dark period is reduced, as is allowed by EU law, but not eliminated, and birds are able to sleep if they wish.
The poultry industry has been working hard to tackle campylobacter and it fully recognises its responsibility to ensure the food it produces is safe. The industry is implementing, together with retailers and regulators, new processes and procedures that should reduce the incidence of campylobacter from farm to fork. This is a leading effort to resolve a challenging and vital issue, and it deserves to be discussed in full knowledge of the real facts.
C D Parker BA VetMB CertPMP MRCVS