Brits call for ban on imported eggs

According to a report by the European Food Safety Authority many poultry farms in EU countries are contaminated with salmonella, and eggs imported to Britain carry a food poisoning risk.

The report says in some EU countries as many as 50% of of the eggs have been contaminated with the bacteria.

It appears that 62% of farms in the Czech Republic, 55% in Poland and 51% in Spain, were found to be contaminated, while in the UK, almost 12% were found to have salmonella contamination - the third lowest in Europe.

The figures leaked to BBC's Newsnight have prompted calls for a ban on all imported eggs.

According to the British Egg Industry Council 85% of the eggs eaten in Britain are produced on UK farms, the remainder are imported from Europe; the council says eggs below standard should be banned.

It is estimated that the vast majority of imports come from Spain, around 25 million, and according to the research, as many as one in two egg farms in Spain have the salmonella bacteria in their poultry units.

Most imported eggs, including those from Spain are destined for the catering industry and that includes sandwich manufacturers and hospitals.

In 2004 15 Britons died and as many as 6,000 were struck down with severe salmonella food poisoning traced to imported Spanish eggs used by caterers supplying weddings and other functions.

Spanish authorities at the time promised to take immediate action to clean up their industry and eliminate the food poisoning risk but it is clear from the report that the risk remains.

The British Egg Industry Council says strict measures ensure that British eggs meet the highest safety standards and vets check more than 400 UK premises, testing dust, bird faeces and other material.

Only 11.9% of farms with laying hens, were found to have salmonella contamination with only 8% showing contamination with the most dangerous strain of the bacteria.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs says this makes the UK's infection rate the third lowest of all EU member states.

The British Egg Industry Council has called for sub-standard eggs to be banned from Britain unless they meet the standards required by the British Lion scheme, which includes the vaccination of hens against salmonella, a best-before date on every egg and full traceability of eggs, hens and feed.

Animal Health Minister Ben Bradshaw said the number of reported cases of the disease in humans was at its lowest level since a 1997 peak.

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