Salmonella found in one of six broiler farms in Germany

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Salmonella, European union

One in six broiler flocks in Germany is infected with salmonella,
according to a pilot survey bythe country's Federal Institute for
Risk Assessment (BfR).

BfR conducted the study as part of the European Commission's programme to reduce pathogens inpoultry meat, targeted as the most common source of food borne infections in the EU.

The study found that the observed infection rate in broiler chickens was 17.5 per cent, comparatively high, and puts Germany in the upper range in comparison to other EU members.

In Scandinavian countries in which Salmonella has been systematically controlled in stocks for years, the rate is considerably lower.

BfR says the results of the German study confirm that chicken meat can be a major source of foodborne infections.For the study a total of 408 flocks in all federal states with broilers were examined between 1 October 2005 and 30 September 2006. The samples were taken in the course of the year from flocks with between 750 and 24,000chickens in line with the EU provisions. The data from 378 flocks from farms with at least 5,000chickens were then evaluated.

The BfR scientists identified 18 different types of Salmonella in the tested chickens. The range of pathogens is thus broader than in laying hen stocks which were examined in a similar study in2004 and 2005. That study detected pathogenic salmonella detected in about 30 per cent of large-scale laying hen flocks.

The serovars found in the study on broilers also found the pathogen strains S. enteritidis and S. typhimurium,ones that are frequently detected in human salmonellosis cases in Germany, the BfR stated.

The study also examined which antibiotics the individual strains are resistant to. Some of the pathogens were not sensitive to up to 10 of the 17 antimicrobial substancesexamined, the BfR stated.

The results of the study will be passed on to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for evaluation along with data from other EUmember states. The goal is to develop a joint European strategy to control zoonotic agents and, more particularly, Salmonella in poultry flocks.

"In order to reduce the risk to consumers of Salmonella infection from poultry meat, the next step will be concerted action to markedly reduce the Salmonella contamination of broilerstocks,"​ the BfR stated.

Steps to prevent the infection of animals during breeding, fattening and transport to the slaughterhouse are veryimportant, the agency stated.

Processors must also take action to avoid the contamination of Salmonella-free carcasses with thepathogen during slaughter. The must also take measures during the production, packaging and distribution of poultry meat products so as to prevent recontaminationalong the supply chain to consumers, the BfR stated.

The EU produces about 8m tonnes of broiler meat a year, making it the second most consumed meat in theEU. Total poultry production tops out at about 11 million tonnes a year, driven by an average annualconsumption of about 23 kilos per capita.

The EU's top poultry producers are the UK, the Benelux countries, Spain, France, and Italy. Thetop consumers are the UK, Spain, Germany, France and Italy.

Last August last year the European Commission set targets for member states to meet in reducingthe presence of Salmonella in poultry, and has proposed trade bans on eggs from flocks withpersistent high levels of the pathogen. The Commission said it is also looking into the possibilityof introducing a trade ban on eggs from Salmonella infected flocks as soon as possible.

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

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

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

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

The first target deadline for incremental reduction falls in 2008. The ultimate target is toachieve 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 countryregulators six months to submit national control programmes to the Commission for approval and forEU funding.

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

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

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 instates 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 fieldbacteria during sampling and testing.

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

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

The study found there were 192,703 reported cases of salmonellosis and 183,961 ofcampylobacteriosis cases reported during 2004 in the EU's 25 member states. The cases are out of atotal of 400, 000 human cases of zoonoses reported. Most of the cases were foodborne and associatedwith mild to severe intestinal problems.

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

Zoonoses are diseases, which are transmissible from animals to humans. The infection can beacquired directly from animals, or through ingestion of contaminated foodstuffs. The seriousness ofthese 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.

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