Undercover reporting by the Guardian newspaper reveals how serious failures in two separate processing factories can allow bacterium campylobacter to enter the human food chain. Two thirds of the fresh chicken sold in Britain now contains the bacterium, which can cause potentially fatal food poisoning.
Secret filming in the factories in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire, and Llangefni on Anglesey, North Wales, showed offal piled up on floors, purportedly because of broken machinery, and chicken carcasses that had dropped to the floor being picked up and put back on the production line.
The Guardian’s revelations led the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, to demand on Friday that the Food Standards Agency (FSA) conduct an urgent investigation into the factories involved.
The FSA had initially said it was “content” with the factories’ response to the incidents. After pressure from the industry, it had already rowed back on promises to name and shame processors and supermarkets with high rates of campylobacter.
Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer have now launched urgent investigations into their chicken supplies.
The wider issue highlighted by the scandal is how demand for cheap meat of all kinds is lowering standards across the board, and is being driven by large supermarket chains.
As the Guardian notes: “Poultry firms and retailers are locked in to an economic structure of their own making in their race to produce the cheapest possible chicken.”
It is unlikely that an industry with a vested interest in increasing sales will ever consent to a hygiene scoring system that might result in consumers avoiding its meat products and stores.
As a result, the best way to ensure that the food you buy is free from bacteria and won’t leave you feeling compromised about welfare issues is to choose more meat-free options.