Sweden's claim to have poultry stocks with the lowest Salmonella infection rates in the EU hascome under severe attack after 100,000 birds had to be culled this week after an outbreak of thedisease.
The outbreak in Sweden indicates that producers and processors can never be too vigilant inpreventing persistent pathogens such as Salmonella from infecting poultry flocks and later ending upon dinner plates. In a study last year the European Commission found that among EU states Luxembourg and Sweden had the lowestlevels of Salmonella infection rates in their poultry flocks.
The Swedish Poultry Meat Association and the country's food safety regulator say the currentSalmonella outbreak is now under control, according to media reports. Regulators found birds at seven farms in southern Swedenhad tested positive for Salmonella, resulting in the cull.
The outbreak runs counter to boasts by the industry association that Sweden had beaten back thepathogen.
"Sweden has achieved efficient control of Salmonella, despite the industrialisation ofanimal production," the association states on its internet site. "Due to thecontrol, both red and white meat produced in Sweden can today be claimed to be virtually free fromSalmonella."
Last year the European Commission set targets for member states to meet in reducing the presenceof Salmonella in poultry, and has proposed trade bans on eggs from flocks with persistent highlevels of the pathogen. The Commission said it is also looking into the possibility of introducing atrade ban on eggs from Salmonella infected flocks as soon as possible.
The regulations are part of the overall EU strategy to reduce food borne diseases and is linewith a timetable for drawing up Salmonella reduction targets for different animal species, whichwere set out in a 2003 regulation on zoonoses.
Salmonella, campylobacter, and viruses were the most important causes of reported foodborneoutbreaks in 2005. Egg and bakery products were the most common sources of Salmonella outbreaks,whereas broiler meat was an important source for both salmonella and campylobacter outbreaks.Foodborne virus outbreaks were most often caused by drinking water, fruit and vegetables.
As in 2004, the primary source of campylobacter infections in 2005 was linked to fresh poultrywith up to 66 per cent of some samples testing positive.
Salmonella infections, while still remaining a serious threat to human heath and very much in thepublic consciousness, fell by 9.5 per cent in 2005 to an incidence rate of 38.2 cases per 100,000,with a total 176,395 reported cases.
The EU produces about 8m tonnes of broiler meat a year, making it the second most consumed meatin the EU. Total poultry production tops out at about 11 million tonnes a year, driven by an averageannual consumption of about 23 kilos per capita.
The EU's top poultry producers are the UK, the Benelux countries, Spain, France, and Italy. Thetop consumers are the UK, Spain, Germany, France and Italy.
A Commission study published last year found there were 192,703 reported cases of salmonellosisand 183,961 of campylobacteriosis cases reported during 2004 in the EU's 25 member states.
The cases are out of a total of 400, 000 human cases of zoonoses reported. Most of the cases werefoodborne and associated with mild to severe intestinal problems.