Maybe there’s something lost in translation; I’m barely starting to understand Australian.
But if I read this right, the piping hot UK Food Standards Agency has put retail over public health after scrapping plans to regularly name and shame supermarkets selling chicken contaminated with Campylobacter.
Lots of chuckles next time FSA proclaims they are a science-based agency.
According to the Daily Mail, FSA had promised to carry out regular surveys of chicken sold on the high street and publish the results, including the names of the stores, every three months.
The idea was that the public naming and shaming exercise would put pressure on the stores to clean up their chicken and reduce the food poisoning risk to customers.
However, the officials at the watchdog now want to scrap this idea and instead only publish data on the number of birds that are contaminated without identifying the stores involved.
The move has been condemned by a leading academic, who suggested it was driven by pressure from the industry and Government departments, who are keen support supermarkets, farmers and processors.
The changes represent a major victory for the commercial interests of the big retailers, putting concerns for their sales and profits ahead of consumer safety and their right to know what they are eating.
The fact that the supermarkets have managed to water down the scheme is just the latest evidence as to how lobbying by big business has driven a change in official policy on food and health issues.
Similar lobbying killed off a plan for a blanket ban on junk food snacks and drinks from displays around supermarket check-outs.
The FSA recently revealed that more than one million people are falling victim to food poisoning every year with supermarket chicken named as the greatest threat.
Campylobacter, which is most often found on raw chicken, is the biggest cause of food poisoning in the country.
An official study published in 2009 revealed that two in three of all fresh chicken on shelves was contaminated with campylobacter. More than one in four – 27 per cent – were classed as being highly contaminated.
Despite the fact the FSA has asked supermarkets and farmers to make combatting campylobacter a top priority, the situation appears to have shown no improvement since then.
An FSA paper on the food poisoning caused by campylobacter warned: ‘In addition to the attendant economic costs, cases cause inconvenience, discomfort and misery to those who become infected and a small proportion of cases result in death or long-term consequences, such as reactive arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome and Guillain-Barré syndrome, the latter of which affects the peripheral nervous system.’
Despite the clear threat, the FSA’s executives are now asking its board to redraw the rules for its surveys to ensure the stores selling contaminated chicken are not identified in its quarterly results.
A paper prepared by officials states this is in response to ‘legitimate concerns expressed by the industry and other government departments’. The references to other departments relates to the food and farming department, DEFRA, which sees itself as a champion of British farmers, including those producing chicken.
The FSA paper states: ‘In the last update to the Board in March 2014 it was stated that the FSA intended to release the full results, including the names of the retailers and processors, of testing of around 1,000 samples every 3 months during the survey, with the first results published around June/July 2014.’
However, it says it has now decided to change this approach because there is a risk the results will be incomplete and misleading and it would – in some way – be unfair to the stores.
The FSA said: ‘One of the drawbacks of this approach is that no interpretation can properly be placed on interim raw data until the full year’s sampling is complete and fully analysed.
The watchdog’s board is being asked to approve this new approach at a meeting tomorrow.
Erik Millstone, the Professor of Science Policy at the University of Sussex, condemned the move to let the supermarkets off the hook.