HC Deb 09 February 1993 vol 218 cc554-6W
Mr. Spring

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what further advice he has on salmonella in eggs; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Gummer

The Government are today publishing the report of the advisory committee on the microbiological safety of food (ACMSF) on "Salmonella in Eggs". It provides a valuable assessment of the role of eggs as a source of human salmonella infection, taking account of knowledge gained in the past few years. I am grateful to Professor Heather Dick and her committee for their work.

The committee considers that while eggs must be regarded as an important source of human salmonella infection, the contribution they make to current levels of human salmonellosis cannot be quantified precisely. Only a small percentage of eggs are considered to be contaminated with salmonella enteritidis and studies have shown that the number of organisms they contain when laid is very low. The Committee therefore makes a number of recommendations for the storage and handling of eggs which it believes will help limit the chances of salmonellas multiplying and so further reduce any risk of salmonella infection from eggs. To this end, it recommends that eggs should be consumed within three weeks of lay and that use-by dates should be provided on egg packs and the eggs themselves; that industry and retailers should draw up codes of practice for the shortage and handling of eggs; and that once purchased, eggs should be stored in a refrigerator. The report also advocates the use of pasteurised egg in dishes containing egg which are eaten raw or lightly cooked, and endorses previous advice by the Chief Medical Officer that people should avoid eating raw eggs and vulnerable groups should eat only eggs that have been cooked until the yolk and white are solid.

The Committee noted the decline that had taken place in the number of large commercial egg laying flocks in which salmonella enteritidis infection had been confirmed since control measures were introduced in 1989. It recommends that the Government should review the continuing need for the compulsory slaughter of laying flocks infected with salmonella enteritidis and in consultation with industry, update existing codes of practice for control of salmonella in laying flocks. It also recommends the formation of a liaison team to monitor the industry's progress in reducing the incidence of salmonella in poultry. Finally, it considers that periodic surveys should be undertaken to monitor trends in salmonella infection in eggs and identifies topics for future research.

The publication of the ACMSF report is timely in relation to the recent adoption by the Council of Ministers of the EC Zoonoses Directive (92/117/EEC) laying down harmonised rules for the control of salmonella in poultry. This was an important achievement during the United Kingdom presidency and the Government intend bringing its existing measures for the control of salmonella in poultry into line with those required under the directive as soon as possible. Breeding flocks of domestic fowl comprising 250 or more birds will be required to be tested every two weeks by the owner with official samples being taken every eight weeks. Flocks found to be infected with salmonella enteritidis or salmonella typhimurium would continue to be compulsorily slaughtered. The directive does not include harmonised measures for the control of salmonella in commercial egg laying flocks. Having considered the findings of the ACMSF report the Government consider there is no longer a need to monitor laying flocks and to require the compulsory slaughter of those found to be infected with salmonella enteritidis.

The Government accept the committee's other recommendations and will now consult with industry, consumers and enforcement bodies on their implementation. Detailed proposals for implementing the recommendations of the ACMSF report and for implementing Directive 92/117/EEC are set out in a consultation document which is today being sent to all interested organisations for their comments. A copy of this document together with the ACMSF report, and the Government's response is being placed in the Library of the House. Egg industry and other organisations are already being consulted about possible changes to the EC Egg Marketing Standards Regulations which cover date marking and recommendations about storage facilities.

The Government are committed to firm but proportionate action against salmonella. Our approach is based on co-operation of Government, the poultry industry, food manufacturers and retailers and consumers, taking account of the latest expert advice and of developments in the European Community. I believe that this package of proposals provides continued protection for the consumer of egg and egg products while avoiding disproportionate burdens on producers.