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Lack of decisive action on epidemic is alarming

27 July 2006

Lack of decisive action on epidemic is alarming

The Green Party is alarmed that the Government will not take any decisive action in the foreseeable future to reduce the epidemic of campylobacter infections in New Zealand while it waits for yet more advice.

In the House today the Minister of Food Safety, in response to questioning by Greens' Food Safety Spokesperson Sue Kedgley, said they would not act until further research was conducted.

"I am extremely concerned at the New Zealand Food Safety Authority's procrastinating on this issue, when all the modelling work shows that only permitting frozen chicken to be sold would reduce the risk of becoming ill from eating chicken 10 to 100 fold, Ms Kedgley said.

"Campylobacter infections have reached epidemic proportions in New Zealand, with scientists estimating that 50,000 New Zealanders are becoming ill from the bacteria, and 400 hospitalised each year.

"Other countries like Iceland have acted swiftly by only permitting frozen chicken to be sold, so I cannot understand why our Food Safety Authority wont follow suit.

"One of the key objectives of the Authority is to ensure that all food produced, marketed or distributed in New Zealand meets the highest standards of food hygiene and safety, so why is it failing so abysmally in its mandate?"

It was also concerning that the Food Safety Authority continued to place responsibility for the epidemic on poor food handling by consumers, instead of reducing the epidemic at one of the key sources - poultry slaughter houses.

"The Food Authority's own research shows that slaughter houses, and some of the machinery used in them, are major sources of cross contamination. Why doesn't it demand that the slaughter houses are cleaned up instead of blaming consumers?

"The Food Act is clear that it is illegal to sell contaminated food, so I cant understand why the Authority allows contaminated chicken to be sold, in breach of the Act.

Ms Kedgley said she was also concerned that the Authority continued to tell consumers on its website and its communications material that washing hands, utensils and chopping boards with soap and hot water would reduce the risk of infection, when scientists say that only washing everything with chlorine bleach will kill the bacteria.

ENDS

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