The Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) today launched a consultation on a programme designed for poultry laying flocks. The EU has set a deadline of February 2008, when all member states are expected to have implemented a control programme to reduce salmonella. Salmonella is a common cause of food poisoning and can cause serious illness in humans. Defra aims to reduce the levels of the two most important strains, Salmonella enteritidis and Salmonella typhimurium, at the production level in a bid to lower contamination incidents along the supply chain. While UK levels are among the lowest in Europe, both strains are still found on 8 per cent of holdings with laying flocks. Defra aims to reduce these two types of Salmonella by 10 per cent each year for the next three years. The programme sets out how this will be achieved and includes mandatory sampling and testing requirements. In 2009, additional measures will also come into force for holdings where either type of salmonella has been found. Eggs from flocks confirmed to be infected will not be permitted to be sold for human consumption unless they have been heat-treated. EU legislation currently provides a framework for each country's national control programmes and outlines the phases of production sampling and testing must cover. The legislation established the details of obligatory sampling and testing in each member state and imposed reduction targets for each country. The UK carried out a nation-wide survey of commercial laying flock holdings during 2004 and 2005 finding that 8 per cent of layer flock holdings in the UK were infected with Salmonella enteritidis or Salmonella typhimurium. Similar surveys took place across all EU member states found a level of 20.4 per cent for the strains. A survey of retail eggs by the Food Standards Agency in 2003 tested 28,518 eggs and found that one in every 290 boxes of six eggs on sale had Salmonella contamination on the shells only.