In­te­gra­tion and co­op­er­a­tion key to con­trol Salmonella

The Poultry Bulletin - - FRONT PAGE -

On 3 De­cem­ber 1988, Bri­tish MP Ed­wina Cur­rie went on UK tele­vi­sion and told 10 mil­lion view­ers that most of the egg pro­duc­tion in the coun­try was af­fected with Salmonella. Her state­ment sparked mas­sive con­sumer panic and out­rage among poul­try pro­duc­ers, vir­tu­ally col­laps­ing the UK poul­try in­dus­try overnight. Egg sales plum­meted by 60%, four mil­lion hens were slaugh­tered, and 400 mil­lion un­wanted eggs were de­stroyed. Cur­rie’s rash ac­tions even­tu­ally led to her res­ig­na­tion, but by then the chick­ens had flown the coop and the dam­age was done.

The Bri­tish Egg In­dus­try Coun­cil re­sponded, say­ing her re­marks were “fac­tu­ally in­cor­rect and highly ir­re­spon­si­ble”, claim­ing that the risk of an egg be­ing in­fected with Salmonella was less than 200 mil­lion to one. Amid the cri­sis, the gov­ern­ment mounted a mul­ti­mil­lion Pound com­pen­sa­tion pack­age for egg pro­duc­ers.

In 2001, long af­ter the furore had died down, a White­hall re­port said that Cur­rie had been largely right. Bri­tain was in fact fac­ing a “Salmonella epi­demic of con­sid­er­able pro­por­tions” in late 1988 and the is­sue had been down­played by gov­ern­ment and the in­dus­try. Cases of Salmonella En­ter­i­tidis, one of two strains likely to im­pact hu­man health, and as­so­ci­ated with poul­try

pro­duc­tion, had al­most tre­bled in 1997/98.

There are over 2600 strains the Salmonella bac­terium, of which two are key in hu­man health. These live in the stom­ach and in­testines of an­i­mals and hu­mans and can even be found on fresh fruit and veg­etable pro­duce, largely due to cross­con­tam­i­na­tion. While the chances of con­tract­ing it are slim in prop­er­ly­cooked eggs and poul­try, it can be a very nasty dis­ease. If in­fected, a suf­ferer may ex­pe­ri­ence fever, stom­ach pain, di­ar­rhoea, nau­sea or vom­it­ing. Most pa­tients re­cover in a week but it can be deadly for vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple like chil­dren, pen­sion­ers and the im­munecom­pro­mised, par­tic­u­larly if it spreads into the bones or blood. Cur­rent global sta­tis­tics point to 600 mil­lion doc­u­mented cases of Salmonella in­fec­tion in hu­mans and 400 mil­lion deaths (more than malaria) and 40% of these deaths were in chil­dren un­der the age of five.

The UK poul­try in­dus­try re­sponded with an in­dus­try clean-up, im­ple­men­ta­tion of strict mon­i­tor­ing pro­to­cols, and rig­or­ous biose­cu­rity mea­sures. The real break­through only came with the in­tro­duc­tion of vac­ci­na­tion of hens for Salmonella. The ‘Lion Mark’ was in­tro­duced by the Bri­tish Egg Coun­cil for all eggs pro­duced as a qual­ity as­sur­ance stamp.

What does this have to do with SA’S poul­try in­dus­try?

SA’s poul­try in­dus­try faces some very tough chal­lenges right now - a weak­en­ing rand, a drought-stricken maize har­vest, lo­cal in­fla­tion­ary pres­sures, con­cerns around an­tibi­otic re­sis­tance, and im­ports of frozen chicken por­tions that are threat­en­ing the mar­ket and cost­ing jobs.

It is time for the in­dus­try to work to­gether. Be­ing proac­tive and re­spon­sive to the im­pact of chang­ing pro­duc­tion trends has never been more cru­cial. Amidst the chal­lenges, there is good news. Firstly, SA’S largest agri­cul­tural sec­tor em­ploy­ing some 54 000 peo­ple has taken sig­nif­i­cant strides to­wards the pro­tec­tion of the na­tional flock, which in turn en­sures food se­cu­rity as well as job se­cu­rity. The→

es­tab­lish­ment of the Poul­try Dis­ease Man­age­ment Agency (PDMA) was a sig­nif­i­cant step in un­der­pin­ning the pro­duc­tion of high qual­ity, af­ford­able pro­tein as the cor­ner­stone of the in­dus­try. The PDMA has since been work­ing with the Vet­eri­nary Pub­lic Health sec­tion of DAFF to de­velop and im­ple­ment a Na­tional Residue and Mi­cro­bial Mon­i­tor­ing Pro­gramme, which is not only im­por­tant for the lo­cal mar­ket, but also an en­abler for SA to play a mean­ing­ful role in poul­try ex­ports in fu­ture.

Se­condly, while the news of Salmonella out­breaks is rel­a­tively re­cent, our knowl­edge of what can be done to re­duce Salmonella is not. We have been suc­cess­fully re­duc­ing Salmonella for over 50 years. Our poul­try in­dus­try can ac­com­plish the task of Salmonella re­duc­tion by ac­cept­ing one pri­mary con­cept: Salmonella is a man­age­ment dis­ease.

The im­por­tance of an in­te­grated ap­proach

Strin­gent biose­cu­rity mea­sures and vac­ci­na­tion were ar­guably cru­cial suc­cess fac­tors in the suc­cess of the Lion Code qual­ity scheme. Of course, there is al­ways a caveat. An ef­fec­tive Salmonella con­trol pro­gram re­quires an in­te­grated ap­proach, in­clud­ing sound on-farm biose­cu­rity prac­tices, good hy­giene and mon­i­tor­ing. But these ef­forts will not lead to ad­e­quate Salmonella con­trol if birds are un­able to pre­vent Salmonella from mul­ti­ply­ing. Pre­ven­tion is ar­guably much bet­ter than cure. For this rea­son, biose­cu­rity must be a ma­jor com­po­nent of a Salmonella con­trol pro­gram, along with vac­ci­na­tion. Biose­cu­rity is a set of pre­cau­tion­ary mea­sures de­signed to pre­vent the in­tro­duc­tion and spread of Salmonella into poul­try flocks and the re­lated sup­ply chain.

Although the im­ple­men­ta­tion of a com­pre­hen­sive biose­cu­rity plan and vac­ci­na­tion process may mean a higher task load, nei­ther should be con­sid­ered as ad­di­tional ex­pense. It pays off fully for both flock health and con­sumer safety. It is an in­vest­ment when it comes to sus­tain­able flock per­for­mance in the pre­ven­tion of poul­try dis­eases, proper use of an­tibi­otics as well as in a sound ap­proach to pro­duce Salmonella-free poul­try prod­ucts (Bowen et al, 2010).

With the rapidly ex­pand­ing mid­dle class and a global pop­u­la­tion ex­pected to hit 9 bil­lion by 2050, there will be a greater de­mand for meat, milk and eggs. This means that we have to find a way to in­crease sup­ply to meet de­mand and pro­vide it sus­tain­ably and safely. Yet, since the 1990s, egg pro­duc­tiv­ity has de­clined as a re­sult of con­tin­ued dis­ease chal­lenges, chang­ing pro­duc­tion prac­tices and re­mov­ing in­no­va­tion from some parts of the world. On the cur­rent tra­jec­tory, the num­ber of hens will have to nearly dou­ble to meet 2050 de­mand, which sim­ply is not sus­tain­able. As global food­pro­duc­tion sys­tems evolve to cope with this soar­ing de­mand, the poul­try meat and egg in­dus­tries must move to­ward to­tal-man­age­ment sys­tems where ad­dress­ing food safety is em­bed­ded in food-safety tech­nolo­gies, in­for­mat­ics and di­ag­nos­tics.

It is only by work­ing to­gether - reg­u­la­tory author­i­ties, in­dus­try, vet­eri­nar­i­ans and sci­en­tists - that we can suc­cess­fully con­trol food­borne in­fec­tions and re­as­sure con­sumers of the safety and sup­ply of the food they eat, and de­velop a qual­ity as­sur­ance mark for South Africa so that con­sumers are as­sured of the ori­gin and stan­dards back­ing the eggs and chicken they pur­chase. The in­vest­ment into pre­ven­tion and co­op­er­a­tion are well worth it - in fact in­dis­pens­able - for any pro­ducer that plans to be around in the next few years.¡

Dr Charlotte Nkuna

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