Zoonoses legislation… Use eggs for confirmation, says BEIC

FARMING UK - With new salmonella regulations due to be introduced by the EU next year, the UK egg industry is fighting to ensure that producers are not unfairly penalised by environmental sampling techniques.
calendar icon 20 April 2007
clock icon 4 minute read

As reported previously in the Ranger, the new rules are part of the EU’s zoonoses legislation and starting from January 2008 producers will be required by law to take environmental samples from all buildings housing their flocks.

Initially samples will only be tested for Salmonella enteritidis and Salmonella typhimurium, the two most common salmonellas associated with poultry, but further sub-types could be included in the future.

Testing will have to commence when the birds are between 22 and 26 weeks of age and then repeated at intervals of 15 weeks, which means each flock will be subjected to four tests over the laying period. Each test involves environmental sampling based on two pairs of boot swabs—or alternatively droppings samples. The cost of the new testing procedure is still unknown but it is producers who will have to foot the bill. In addition to the samples submitted by the producer, once every twelve months farms will be visited by a “control body” who will sample one flock on the holding.

But the major concern facing egg producers are the consequences of turning up a positive sample. Throughout the first year of testing this will simply involve the producer putting in place a plan to eliminate the infection, backed by advice from Defra. But moving forward—and probably from January 2009—the new rules will ban the sale of eggs at retail level from units which test positive for Se or St.

From this date if a producer’s sample proves positive a repeat sample will be ordered. If this is also shown to be positive then restrictions on the sale of eggs from the affected flock will be put in place. The only outlet for the eggs will be processing after heat treatment—assuming processors will accept them—and with it a massive loss of value. At the same time Defra will sample any other flocks on the holding.

But under the proposed rules the producer can insist on a further confirmatory sample. At present this can be another environmental sample or sampling of birds’ internal organs. Currently under discussion by EU officials, however, is whether the option of sampling of eggs for confirmation of infection should be permitted, a proposal which is being backed heavily by the UK egg industry.

Negotiations in Brussels and with Defra have been spearheaded by the British Egg Industry Council and its chief executive, Mark Williams, told the Ranger that he was determined that eggs be included as a means of confirming the results derived from environmental sampling.

“As far as we are concerned a line has now been drawn in the sand and we have made it quite clear to UK officials and the Commission that for producers to have confidence in the legislation—and to support it, for it will be difficult to administer without industry support—they must not be unfairly penalised.”

The BEIC has long-argued that the presence of salmonella in the environment does not necessarily lead to eggs being infected.

“This legislation is ultimately aimed at protecting public health and from that point of view it’s contamination of the eggs, not the environment, that is the real issue,” said Mr Williams. “The consequences of a positive result based on an environmental sample could prove disastrous for a business and that is why producers must have the option of confirming the result through sampling of eggs.”

But even if the EU agrees to this proposal the financial implications associated with a positive environmental sample remain severe. For a start there will be the expense of sampling 4,000 eggs and while there are no firm details yet available on this cost, it is likely to run well into four figures. The affected farm will also have to bear the cost of eggs being diverted to the processing market whilst the results of the confirmatory samples are awaited. Even if this process could be conducted within a week of restrictions being placed upon the farm, for a 12,000 bird free range unit the cost in loss of egg income could be as much as £3,000.

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