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Disease rate is a wakeup call for food safety

Disease rate is a wakeup call for food safety

Green MP Sue Kedgley is calling on the government to take the lead in getting poultry producers to clean up their act after a report that New Zealand has one of the highest rates of campylobacteriosis in the Western world.

The public health survey in the news today said infection rates of the bacterial disease, often associated with infected chicken, is up to 10 times higher here than in North America.

These latest revelations on the frequency of the disease follow an Environmental Science & Research (ESR) report last year that information on the prevalence of the campylobacter bacteria in chicken products in New Zealand was at best sketchy, although Consumer magazine found that 34 out of 40 chickens they bought were contaminated.

"The connection between campylobacter and chicken is well established so this latest health survey should be yet another prompt for government action to clean up chicken factories and slaughterhouses," said Ms Kedgley, the Green Party Spokesperson on Health and Safe Food.

"However we also need to get a more accurate picture, so there should be a random and ongoing survey of chickens sold in supermarkets to establish what the rate of contamination actually is.

"If Consumer magazine's figures are extrapolated out, it would certainly appear that hundreds of thousands of chickens contaminated with campylobacter are being sold to New Zealanders each week. If health officials and poultry producers don't want the public to believe that that is the case, they had better do a more exhaustive survey as soon as possible.

"We cannot tolerate these high levels of campylobacteriosis given the risk of permanent health damage or death and the cost to the economy of such widespread infection.

"While consumers do need to practice careful hygiene when handling chickens, the focus still has to be on cleaning up the production and distribution chain so that chicken is not contaminated in the first place.

"The food safety issues may also be only the tip of the iceberg. Farmers are permitted to spread raw, untreated poultry excrement across pastures, which would certainly seem to have the potential to cause campylobacter contamination of waterways and the wider environment. Why is this risky practice permitted given the astonishingly high campylobacteriosis rates in New Zealand?"

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