Revealed: the dirty secret of the UK’s poultry industry

The Guardian – Wednesday 23rd July

A recent exposé on the processing of supermarket chickens reveals just what a dirty business it is. Campylobacter, a leading cause of food poisoning which can sometimes kill, is rampant in chickens and poor hygiene practice in factories is helping to spread it. The pressure to keep the processing lines running so that orders from supermarkets can be met is a clear contributor. Good hygiene means ensuring machines work properly and are cleaned regularly and workers adhere to strict rules, like not picking up chickens that have fallen onto dirty factory floors. However, industry always has its bottom line to to think about, so letting things slide happens a lot more often than it should, as the Guardian investigation shows.

The larger problem here is, of course, factory farmed chicken. The pursuit of cheaper and cheaper chicken degrades the process on every level, from the terribly inhumane conditions that factory farmed chickens are raised in (they have a space the size of an A4 paper) to the speed required to kill, eviscerate, pluck and package the chickens in order to meet the extraordinary high levels of consumer demand. Supermarkets and fast food companies contribute to the problems because orders must be filled or contracts are cancelled, which leaves managers reluctant to stop work to fix broken machines and chickens that are dropped on the floor are picked up rather than dumped as per protocol. Conditions at factory farms further contribute to the spread of campylobacter and between the ‘cropping’ of chickens and their processing is a lot of dangerous bacteria. It’s a bad, bad situation that’s getting worse. Stay away from factory farmed birds and buy your meat local and sustainable.

Britain’s increasing taste for white meat is a disaster for animals and for us

The Guardian – Friday 25th July

On the heels of a report last week that urged people to eat less beef as a means of mitigating climate change, many will no doubt be switching to chicken instead. Chicken is eaten in greater quantities than any other meat across the globe. It’s thought to be healthier, though research shows that this is less and less the case. Today’s chicken is fattier and has more calories but less protein.

Justin Kerswell’s blog in the Guardian is yet another call not to jump on the white meat bandwagon (see also Richard Young’s Guardian blog). Calling our growing taste for chicken, ‘…a disaster for animals and a disaster for us,’ he follows the trail of problems generated by the chicken industry. Starting with the Guardian’s investigation of the increase in campylobacter, he comments on the over-use and misuse of antibiotics in chicken farming, the vile conditions factory farmed chickens live in ‘…crammed into sheds of 30,000 or more living on top of their own excreta’ and the increasing pollution of waterways by factory farms. With 945 million birds killed in the last year, it’s really not conscionable nor wise to continue eating chicken in the amounts currently being consumed.

First case of MRSA found in UK pigs

Farming Monthly – Thursday 28th July

Writing in the Veterinary Record, vets from Northern Ireland have reported the first case of livestock-associated MRSA (LA-MRSA) in a British pig. The pig was badly wasted and died from pneumonia. It came from a herd where one in every 10 pigs was dying after weaning.

LA-MRSA refers to strains of MRSA which live and multiply in farm animals and humans alike, and can pass between them, either directly via physical contact or indirectly through the environment or possibly on food. They have become a major problem in many European countries, especially in pigs, the farm animal species that receives the highest doses of antibiotics and also has high levels of antibiotic resistance in several types of bacteria that can transfer to humans. However, this is the first time LA-MRSA has been picked up in British pigs.

Currently, infections in humans caused by LA-MRSA are no worse than those caused by hospital strains of the superbugs; some are even slightly easier to treat. But concern exists because farm animals are becoming a major new reservoir of MRSA in many countries; the number of strains is increasing; and some of these are already showing signs of increased virulence.

LA-MRSA was found in British cattle in 2012 and a British turkey in 2013. Abattoir surveys now show that 61% of Spanish pigs, 60% of pigs in Germany and 39% of Dutch pigs carry MRSA. Meanwhile in Norway, food safety regulators have just ordered the destruction of a 600 pig herd, due to the finding of MRSA.

The extent of the UK problem is still unknown. Despite repeated calls since 2006 from the Soil Association, the British Government has still failed to introduce surveillance for MRSA in farm animals or meat.

The SFT is a member of the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics. For a more detailed account see the Alliance’s press release.

EU rules could damage UK organic sector

Farmers Weekly – Saturday 26th July

EU bureaucracy threatens to make organic farming harder, which is really not the direction to be moving in. It will make it harder for conventional farms to transition to organic by preventing conventional and organic systems bring part of a single farm. Though this inevitably raises some concern in relation to the holistic principles of organic farming – does it make sense to be killing things on one side of the line while you try to encourage them on the other? – you also don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water. We want to encourage farmers to transition, and while the EU’s suggested regulations were probably made with their hearts in the right place, we need to keep the bigger picture in mind.

Pesticide linked to 3 generations of disease

Farming Online – Friday 25th July

A study out of Washington State University documents the effect of the pesticide methoxychlor, which was a replacement for DDT after it was banned for use, across three generations of rats. Methoxychlor is an endrocrine disruptor, also now banned in US because of its heavy toxicity and its ability to disrupt the reproductive system (it acts like oestrogen). The study evidences the impact of direct exposure to the chemical in one generation, increasing the likelihood of disease in two successive generations – if your great grandma came in contact with it, you might get ill because of it. Its effects have been linked to obesity, kidney and ovarian diseases in subsequent generations.

What the study particularly points out is the ongoing and dangerous health impacts of pesticides – we are only just beginning to uncover the significant and long-term problems with the chemicals that have become pervasive throughout our food chain. A growing number of studies are evidencing that our exposure to them is significant and increasingly they are linking them to conditions and diseases like obesity, as with methoxychlor, that have been on the rise for decades. We cannot let studies like this one be pushed aside and overlooked as we are told again by chemical companies that our levels of exposure are safe. There must be stronger lobbying to reduce and regulate the use of chemicals in agriculture.

German NGO says TTIP will undermine global food security

EurActiv – Friday 25th July

There has been sporadic coverage in recent weeks of the TTIP – arguably the most significant trade agreement ever between the EU and the US. Have a read of Tessa Tricks’ feature and open your eyes to what’s going on behind our backs. As one might expect, it is engineered to favour corporate interests and in agriculture, it could work to inhibit the creation of a secure and sustainable food future. In particular, it could make local procurement programmes – which promote local and mostly small-scale food producers – illegal. The director of Brot für die Welt (Bread for the World), a German NGO, argues that the TTIP could ‘…make it possible for large food companies and agribusinesses to penetrate small, local markets that have been protected so far.’ It could also affect the growth of small-scale farming in developing countries, which is seen by many policy developers and politicians as critical to increasing food security. It’s just one of the many critical decisions government officers and politicians will be deciding for you with their back-alley politics.

Mexican judge bans planting of GMO soy

The Cornucopia Institute – Tuesday 29th July

A really interesting piece from the Cornucopia Institute which champions ‘Family Scale Farming’, on a little covered ruling against the planting of GM Soy in Mexico’s Yucatan. Honey is the state’s key export, most of it directed at the European market, and the EU bans honey containing pollen from GMOs. A judge has ruled that the GM soy is threatening the honey market and has overturned Monsanto’s permit to plant it. The permit appears to have been issued by federal agencies that may have been involved in corruption and collusion. Is Monsanto buying officials? We certainly wouldn’t put it past them. But good on the judge who chose to lay the law down instead of selling out to the highest bidder, protecting indigenous communities and local farmers by proclaiming that honey production and GM soy cannot co-exist.

Feature image by Marjan Lazarevski

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