HL Deb 14 January 1991 vol 524 cc69-71WA
Lord Gainford

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What conclusions have been reached in the review of the Government's policy on the control of salmonella.

Baroness Trumpington

In 1989 the Government introduced a comprehensive programme for tackling the problem of salmonella in poultry and eggs. This programme has been effective in reducing potential sources of infection and will be maintained. We have made it clear, however, that the detailed form of control would be kept under careful review in the light of developing knowledge and experience. This has been done taking into account the views of the Department of Health and the Public Health Laboratory Service.

The government measures are aimed at reducing infection throughout the production chain, from the supply of feedingstuffs to the production of healthy breeding stock and controls on laying flocks. This integrated approach is the best means of minimising the risk of infection in all types of poultry flocks and will continue.

The measures on feedingstuffs include statutory controls on the production of animal protein which require regular sampling of feed and reprocessing if any salmonella is found. Rigorous controls are also applied to imports of animal protein. In addition the feed industry operates codes of practice aimed at ensuring that its products are free of salmonella.

The programme for controlling salmonella in breeding flocks concentrates in particular on monitoring of progeny through the hatcheries and the slaughter of infected breeding stock, in both the egg production and poultry meat sectors in order to minimise the risk of transmission of infection to production flocks. Through the application of these measures to date, 35 broiler breeder flocks and five layer breeder flocks have been compulsorily slaughtered with payment of compensation. These arrangements will continue unchanged.

In relation to commercial flocks producing eggs for human consumption, we have reviewed carefully information from the State Veterinary Service and the Public Health Laboratory Service on the incidence of infection and trends in human food poisoning. It is clear that a continued distinction needs to be drawn between the many different types of salmonella. From the start the government measures have concentrated on two particular types which had been considered a potential risk to human health, while retaining the flexibility to alter the coverage of the programme in the light of further evidence on the risk from different types of salmonella.

One of these types, salmonella enteritidis, was responsible for the increase in human food poisoning cases which led to the introduction of the government measures. Data from laboratory testing indicate that the incidence of salmonella enteritidis in the commercial laying sector has subsequently dropped significantly. However, salmonella enteritidis remains a significant cause of human food poisoning. We have therefore concluded that it remains essential to maintain the compulsory slaughter programme for all laying flocks which are infected with salmonella enteritidis.

The other type which has hitherto been treated in the same way is salmonella typhimurium. In the light of further scientific data we have concluded that the arrangements for dealing with this type in relation to laying flocks should be modified. The Chief Medical Officer agrees with this view. Evidence from the Public Health Laboratory Service indicates that the number of cases of salmonella typhimurium food poisoning in humans has fallen significantly over the last year and the number of outbreaks of salmonella typhimurium food poisoning linked to eggs is now extremely low. Unlike salmonella enteritidis, this type is not predominantly associated with poultry but is frequently found in the environment and in other animal species. When it does occur in poultry which are being reared for egg production, it is predominantly a disease of young birds (pullets) rather than adult birds. Infection in pullet flocks presents no direct risk to public health, as the birds are not producing eggs. Young birds can be treated, and my officials will give advice to flock owners on appropriate treatment arrangements. The automatic slaughter policy for laying flocks infected with salmonella typhimurium will be discontinued but the arrangements for monitoring and reporting of infection will continue. Salmonella typhimurium will therefore be placed in the same category as all types of salmonella (other than salmonella enteritidis) where existing measures will continue to be taken where necessary to protect public health.

The Government have published today the second part of the report of the Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food. Among the committee's conclusions is a recommendation that the topic of salmonella in eggs should be considered by the new Advisory Committee and Steering Group on the Microbiological Safety of Food. The Government have agreed in their response that the issue of salmonella in eggs needs to be kept under close review and they will be examining a number of issues which remain to be resolved. One of these issues, on which research is currently under way, is the pasteurisation of eggs from infected flocks. European Community proposals on the control of salmonella enteritidis are expected to include this treatment as part of an alternative method of control involving the safe disposal of products from infected flocks rather than compulsory slaughter.

The salmonella control measures as a whole will be assessed further in the light of progress in the European Community discussions. It remains the Government's firm objective to secure Community-wide measures on salmonella which ensure that consumers are protected, whether consuming home produced or imported products, and that producers throughout the Community operate to the same high standards as in this country.