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Poultry Industry Rejects Researchers' Claims

Friday October 13
Media statement from the Poultry Industry Association of New Zealand (PIANZ)

Imagine a mechanic who insists on banning all cars, to avoid road accidents. Now you know how the poultry industry feels when dealing with researcher Michael Baker.

The Poultry Industry Association (PIANZ) has never met Mr Baker. He has never contacted our office. The industry never receives his controversial Campylobacter research. No phone calls. No email. He has never raised any concerns with us about food safety.

But Mr Baker is no stranger to the news media. And through the news media, he continues to deliver inconsistent and contradictory opinions about the reasons behind New Zealand’s unacceptably high rates of human Campylobacter. Consumers should read again what he had to say in his highly publicised Otago University research paper, published in July:

“There is no conclusively identified major cause of the increased Campylobacter incidence in New Zealand.”

Despite not knowing the “major cause” of our Campylobacter crisis, Mr Baker is now demanding a ban or restrictions (confusingly, he appears to be demanding both) on the sale of fresh chicken in supermarkets. The idea has already been dismissed by scientists and agencies who value science over muddled opinion. As the New Zealand Food Safety Authority has already made clear, frozen chicken still requires sensible handling once it has thawed.

Mr Baker’s simplistic reaction ignores several key facts. New Zealand is not alone in battling Campylobacter. The problem is global. No other country in the world has eliminated Campylobacter from chicken. Campylobacter-free chicken does not exist in any supermarket. And no other country bans the sale of fresh poultry meat. Iceland once tried and eventually abandoned the idea.

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The poultry industry has never denied uncooked chicken meat in New Zealand – and in every other country – is one of many risk factors. But Campylobacter in New Zealand is worsening at a time when poultry farming and processing standards in this country have never been better. Our poultry farming and processing methods are the same as overseas markets. The chicken you buy here is no different to the meat you buy in Sydney and London.

So what’s really happening? Mr Baker claims infection rates mirror the rising sales of fresh chicken. But we believe other factors are involved. There have been enormous changes in New Zealand’s farming practices over the past decade. It is too simplistic to single out chicken. One recent study – also published in the New Zealand medical Journal – has already identified flies as the major source of transmission.

The industry has its own reviews and research programmes underway. We are currently continuing close partnerships with respected agencies like the ESR and the New Zealand Food Safety Authority.

In the meantime, we remain determined to do everything we can to ensure chicken remains a safe and healthy food when cooked and handled correctly.


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