Chlorinated Poultry Meat - Is Cure Better than Prevention?

AVEC, the Association of Poultry Processors and Poultry Trade in the EU Countries, has published its annual report for 2008, which includes a chapter outlining its view on the chlorination of poultry meat. Chlorinated water is used in some countries as a carcass rinse to remove pathogenic bacteria such as Salmonella. As long as the ban on this practice remains in place in the EU, imports from several other countries, including the USA, are kept out. Since the avec report was published, concerted efforts to get the ban overturned at the end of 2008 were unsuccessful.
calendar icon 23 January 2009
clock icon 9 minute read

The European poultry industry complies with strict measures to ensure safe poultry meat to consumers. Strict criteria for overall food producer responsibility, food hygiene measures and microbiology, labeling of food, marketing standards and training of staff have all been recently revised and updated.

avec supports EU regulations aimed at guaranteeing safe, wholesome food and avec is determined that those same guarantees should also apply when EU consumers eat meat imported from third countries.

Antimicrobial Treatment (AMT) – Consumer Confidence and Sustainable Development?

avec thinks that with the present strict hygienic measures that apply at European farm level (disease control programs as foreseen in the zoonoses Regulation 2160/2003) – there is no need now to introduce the use of other substances than potable water for decontamination of poultry carcasses. The available figures of the level of poultry meat contaminated with Salmonella in the EU and third countries demonstrate that the current EU-control programs in the production chain, without the use of these substances produces better results than the programs in third countries using antimicrobial carcass treatments.

After the publication of the SCHER, SCENIHR and BIOHAZ reports in April 2008, on the effects of using chlorine dioxide, acidified sodium chlorite, trisodium phosphate or peroxyacids to remove microbial contamination of poultry carcasses avec has made a press release stating its opposition to the use of these chemical treatments that will harm the image of the poultry industry. The Commission is proposing to allow the use of AMT for a two year test period subject to certain conditions and labelling requirements.

avec is of the opinion that currently the existing strict hygienic rules on the farms make it unnecessary to introduce the possibility of using other substances than potable water for decontamination.

If such a treatment is permitted, avec advocates that the meat must be rinsed with potable water, that the meat should be labelled and that only one of the substances may be applied at a time.

In the recent WTO/DOHA negotiations the use of AMT became a major issue, with the US threatening to take the EU ban on imports of American chicken treated with chlorine solutions to the WTO. Commissioner Verheugen, also co-chair of the Transatlantic Economic Council (TEC), has warned that the EU will make it even more difficult for the bloc to obtain much needed concessions from the US on other issues of importance to the conclusion of a global trade deal, including American farm subsidies.

avec, COPA-COGECA and BEUC, the European Consumer organisation have sent letters to the Commission and published press releases to state their firm rejection of this possible approval as the treatment has not proved as effective as the hygiene measures used in the EU – and is surprised the Commission can suggest a proposal contradicting its own strategy that prevention is better than cure.

In April, EU farm ministers expressed their objection to the procedure and in June the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and the Animal Health voted, with only one abstention, against the use of AMT. In June, the European Parliament voted against permitting the use of AMT. The proposal will be discussed in the Council in September.

Revision of the 'Hygiene Package'

This covers Regulations 852/2004 – 853/2004 – 854/2004 and of 178/2002 regarding article 18 on the traceability of food of animal origin.

The 'hygiene' Regulations lay down rules for the food chain 'from stable to table' that is 'food safety throughout the food chain starting with the primary production'. The Regulations deal with issues of common hygiene requirements, the registration or approval of food establishments and the possibility of developing guides to good practice at all levels of the 18 food chain and the official controls.

Based on Member States' experience with the implementation of the 'package' the Commission has started an evaluation process. avec has expressed its position to DG SANCO on the responsibility of the industry in case of unpacked loose products and on added water in connection with fresh and prepared products. avec has also stated its opinion on the labeling of origin and fresh. avec has advocated a European label of origin and is firmly against frozen meat being allowed to be thawed and marketed as fresh.

avec has asked the Commission to revise the definitions for mechanically separated meat (MSM) and minced meat that is mechanically recovered meat. avec supports the HISTALIM project dealing with new technologies of separating meat left on bones. Despite the introduction of these new technologies there is an ongoing discussion about meat content and the application of the definition of mechanically separated meat, in particular related to the aspect 'the loss or modification of the muscle fiber structure'. avec has pointed out to the Commission that there is a difference in interpretation between the labeling legislation and the hygiene legislation which may lead to different implementation in Member States.

avec will follow up on the of date of slaughter and whether the current and unchanged rules on traceability are adequate in the proposals. avec will also follow the development of responsibilities for production and inspection. avec is pleased to note that its comments on the training of company staff for official controls have been taken into account.

Community Guide on Good Hygiene Practice for Chickens

avec has in co-operation with COPA-COGECA drafted a Community Guide on good practice for meat chickens covering recommended hygiene measures from the farm to the slaughterhouse. The guide deals especially with measures and interventions to prevent infection and spread of zoonoses (Salmonella). The draft guide has been discussed with DG SANCO and was presented for other stakeholders' comments by the end of June. When it has been approved by the Board of avec in October it will be handed over to the Commission for presentation in the Standing Committee and later for translation and distribution to all Member States with Commission support.

Animal By-products Legislation

The Regulation 1774/2002 on animal by-products is under revision. A draft amendment on the current legislation was published by DG SANCO in 2007 (829/2007). Currently 60-70% of the carcasses rejected at the slaughter line are placed in category 2 by official veterinarians. avec has advocated that once an animal has undergone the ante mortem inspection successfully and is fit for slaughter in general the rejections at the slaughter line should be classified into category 3. When the rejected parts are managed in accordance with the Regulation there is no risk to animal or public health. Furthermore poultry slaughterhouses are 100 per cent dedicated to poultry slaughtering. avec has communicated its position to DG SANCO and indicated how to categorize poultry by-products, in particular the rejected parts and the feet.

The Commission and EFSA are still waiting for reliable test methods to confirm proper separation of categories and species of by-products. Some results are expected by the end of 2008. Since the first BSE crisis the use of by-products is a very sensitive issue for consumers. Due to rising feed prices and calls for more sustainable use of all raw material inputs, the Commission is under pressure for the controlled reintroduction of animal by-products. In April SCoFCAH decided to lift a seven-year ban on using fishmeal in animal feed as a milk replacement for calves and lambs. In June, the chairman of EFSA suggested the EU lift the ban on feeding animal by-products to livestock to help lower food prices. The European Parliament has also discussed the issue.

In June, the Commission issued a proposal for a regulation amending 1774/2002 (COM (2008) 345 final).The proposal will make it possible for the Commission to modify the current categorisation of animal byproducts on the basis of a scientific assessment. Furthermore swift disposal procedures for high risk animal by-products are suggested to avoid potential for spread of disease.

avec is currently working with EFPRA, CLITRAVI, COPA-COGECA, FEFAC, IBC and UECBV for a reintroduction of non ruminant poultry and pig products for fish feed specifically category 3 materials from dedicated processes. avec is also looking into how separation of category 3 poultry by-products, tracking and additional testing could assure the safety of poultry by-products for re-incorporation in non-poultry animal feed. avec is closely following the developments.

Consumer Information

Mandatory labelling of food information to consumers

In January 2008, the Commission adopted a proposal for a revision on existing legislation on food and nutrition labelling. The proposal COM (2008) 40 final concerns labelling of prepared products.

In January, avec convened a working group that has discussed the proposal and will come up with a position on the Commission proposal.

The new Regulation makes more nutrition information compulsory. avec along with other stakeholders like CIAA would have preferred voluntary nutritional labelling. Furthermore avec will reiterate its position on the labeling of country of origin, fresh, the definition of mechanically separated meat (MSM) and minced meat, where comments avec made earlier have not been taken into account. avec will also suggest mandatory information for both loose and pre-packed products to avoid Member States setting up different rules, and will also comment on the labelling of water content and the size of the lettering on the labels.

Labelling of animal welfare

avec participates in a Commission working group on animal welfare. The Commission, with reference to a Eurobarometer survey, has stressed the consumer wish for animal welfare information.

Different suggestions on animal welfare labelling have been discussed. avec is in favour of animal welfare and consumers have shown preference for eggs from free range poultry regulated by marketing standards. avec finds however, that it is a real challenge to communicate the right information to consumers at the right place and in the right time by using modern tools or means of communication. avec will closely follow the next steps of the Commission's plan for labelling.

Will the European poultry industry be globally competitive?

avec will continue to promote the interests of the European poultry industry and fight for a level playing field. The global markets are changing rapidly. In Europe the ageing population and pressure on the labour market has increased demand for prepared, high quality products respecting animal welfare. In other parts of the world, consumers demand cheap meat products and sustainable production is not yet an issue.

Meeting Future Challenges

  • How can avec's members best profit from the growing global demand for poultry meat?
  • Is it time for avec's members to rethink production and diversification strategies?

With a proactive approach backed by strong member support, avec is confident that it is possible to meet the challenges of improving the European poultry sector's competitiveness in a fast changing world.

Further Reading

- You can view the full 2008 Annual Report from AVEC by clicking here.

January 2009
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