Skip to content or view screen version

'It's safe to eat if cooked properly'

Keith Parkins | 12.02.2007 14:48 | Animal Liberation | Ecology | Health

What confidence can we have in a diseased food product, when we are assured not to worry, as it is safe to eat if cooked properly? Not eat it, maybe?

'Look, if you are going to process poultry at that price, there's not much that you can do. The important thing is that they are killed humanely. The factories are designed to get them through fast. People want cheap food.' -- Janet Corry, research fellow in food microbiology, University of Bristol

'Half of the chicken on sale in UK in supermarkets is contaminated with campylobacter. Campylobacter causes a nasty kind of food poisoning with severe, often bloody diarrhoea.' -- Felicity Lawrence

'When I wear a pair of Armani trousers they do not become a part of me. But when I eat a slice of ham it does. That's why I spend money on food.' -- Carlo Petrini, founder and Italian president of the Slow Food Movement

'The eating of properly cooked poultry meat and eggs presents no risk to humans – these products are 110 per cent safe.' -- Nigel Horrox, president of British Veterinary Poultry Association

The message being put out by the poultry industry, is that our wholesome product is perfectly safe to eat if cooked well. Quite ok then to handle a contaminated product in its raw state?

Is this meant to engender in me a sense of confidence, that their corrupted product is safe to eat so long as I cook it properly? Would it not be better not to have a diseased product in the first place, not the onus placed on me to be to ensure I cook it properly to ensure I do not fall ill with food poisoning?

If nothing else, this must rule out eating at KFC, where the food is often undercooked.

Over half the chickens on sale in UK supermarkets are contaminated with either campylobacter or salmonella. The problem used to be salmonella, but following the problems of salmonella in eggs, the incidents of salmonella has gone down but that of campylobacter has risen. Although having said that, there is now a worrying rise of antibiotic resistant strains of salmonella.

You are more likely these days to be infected with salmonella from buying packets of fresh-washed, that is washed in a mild chlorine solution, salad leaves.

Campylobacter is a very unpleasant form of food poisoning, causing a severe, often bloody diarrhoea.

Having been carted off to a private clinic in an ambulance, with a bad case of gastroenteritis, and placed on a drip for several days, I know how bad a severe case of food poisoning can be.

Conventional wisdom is to wash all food first. With contaminated poultry, this can make the situation worse, as you are splashing infection all around your sink, on your hands, unless you then scrupulously clean up afterwards.

Poultry live out their short miserable lives in darkened sheds. Their feet have ammonia burns from standing in their own shit. They can barely stand on their weakened legs.

From their darkened existence, chickens are suddenly carted off to be killed, packed into crates, the crates piled one on top the other, packed into a lorry. The chickens panic and shit themselves, those in the top crates emptying their bowels over the chickens in the lower crates.

The chickens then arrive at the slaughter house to be killed humanely, maybe. Hygiene is a secondary consideration, profit and the production of cut-price food the major consideration.

The birds, hanging by their feet, are electrocuted, then have their necks sliced, not too much blood. Then into the scald bath to loosen feathers, ready for removal later down the production line.

The water in the scald bath is only changed once a day. 180 birds a minute pass through. Soon it is the colour of mud with faeces, blood and feathers. It only takes one bird contaminated with salmonella or campylobacter, and all the birds for the remainder of that day become contaminated. Factory-reared, organic, free range, it doesn't matter, they all pass through the same scald bath, then on for 'processing'.

The rich brown soup that the scald bath has become, is maintained at 52 degrees centigrade, ideal conditions for campylobacter, salmonella and other pathogens to thrive.

The plucking machines pummel the dead carcasses to remove the feathers, squeezing out more faecal matter in the process, more contamination. The bacterial count rises ten fold.

And on to be cut, sliced, packaged and onwards to the supermarket shelves.

Fancy a takeaway from KFC anyone?

Like some shit with your French fries sir?

Or maybe a Turkey Twizzler?

Waste not want not is the motto of industrial food processing, adulterate whenever possible, or when you think you can get away with it.

High pressure hoses, wash off the bones, what can only be described as supermarket slurry. Mix with ground up skins, add some fat, bulk out with water, hold together with modified starch and gums, add some flavouring, then coat with bread crumbs. Yuk!

Feeding our children chicken nuggets, burgers, is tantamount to child abuse, which is why Jamie Oliver kicked up such a stink that such 'food' is standard fare on the menu of school dinners, and why local people in Aldershot and further afield, questioned what was their Member of Parliament doing pictured on the front page of the local paper promoting McDonald's and bragging that he took his kids there when they were young.

'British poultry' is sourced from Holland, which in turn is sourced from Thailand and Brazil. In Holland, it is pumped full of water and various additives to enable it to hold up to 30% water. One of these additives is hydrolyzed beef proteins from waste beef, often from blood and bone, high BSE-risk material. Pushed to its limit, it is possible to inject 50% water. The technology for turning water into gold, has been heavily promoted in Eastern Europe.

Is this what was meant by 'partly-processed poultry' that Bernard Mathews imported into Suffolk from their factories in Hungary? A possible route for avian flu into the UK.

The DNA profile of the H5N1 strain of avian flu found at the Bernard Mathews factory in Suffolk was found to be the same as that found in Hungary, ie the two strains of the H5N1 avian flu viruses were identical.

The government should have blocked all poultry imports from Hungary, once there was an outbreak of avian flu, but they did not. They did not because they were more concerned with maintaining confidence in the poultry industry, than the risks posed to human health. They also cited EU rules. Yet another reason for the UK to withdraw from the EU.

The Times has reported that Bernard Mathews may have exported turkey to Hungary. If true, spreading H5N1 strain of avian flu yet further afield.

The drip, drip feed of antibiotics to animals, is causing antibiotic resistance and rendering many antibiotics useless.

Production of cheap poultry for the supermarket shelves is a multi-billion pound industry. Hence the worry the recent major outbreak of avian flu may have on sales.

Poultry production has become an industrialised, globalised business. The more food is shipped around and across borders, the easier it is to hide fraud and that the food has been adulterated.

How fresh is that 'fresh chicken', shipped as it may have been, halfway around the world?

A 'fresh chicken' on a supermarket shelve, can be at least eight days old before it reaches the supermarket distribution depot.

When Felicity Lawrence went undercover for The Guardian at a chicken factory in Devon that supplies 'fresh British chickens' to Sainsbury's, she found chicken breasts being shipped in from Holland, repackaged with a red tractor label (to show authentic British farm produce), and a new sell-by date

Bernard Mathews poultry we were told came from Norfolk, but now we learn he has factories in Hungary that were shipping lorry-loads of partly-processed turkeys to his Suffolk factories. We cannot call these industrial units farms. 32 tonnes of partly-processed turkeys have been arriving in Britain from Bernard Matthews Hungarian plants every week.

Poultry unfit for human consumption is cleaned up and recycled back into the human food chain.

Denby Poultry, until they were caught, were taking condemned poultry unfit for human consumption, cleaning it up, cutting off the mouldy bits, and recycling it back into the human food chain. Denby Poultry were recycling low and high-risk waste contaminated with hepatitis, Staphylococci and E.coli-septicaemia. The owner of Denby Poultry, Peter Roberts, was known in the trade as 'Maggot Pete'.

Recycling waste back into the food chain saves the cost of having to pay for its disposal.

As Felicity Lawrence writes, at the root of all our farming and food problems, is industrialised food production:

'It is not a coincidence that European farmers have lurched from crisis to crisis like this. Our methods of farming livestock intensively and of moving animals vast distances make them particularly vulnerable to epidemics of disease. For centuries traditional farms were mixed, partly to take advantage of the virtuous circle of plants feeding animals whose manure feeds the plants, but also as an insurance against the risk of disease. Farm diseases are usually quite specific, and attacked one type of livestock or crop. The best way to prevent them is to avoid keeping too many of the same animals together in one place, and to rotate them so the cycle of diseases and parasites is broken. Organic farmers know this. Once a disease does strike, just as isolation works with human illness, so keeping animals away from contact with other animals of their type is the best way of controlling it. Modern systems of monoculture do the opposite. Meat and livestock are not only regularly transported around the world but also kept together in great crowds in the same place year after year. By the time a disease has been noticed, it has often taken devastating grip.'

Until the advent of modern, industrialised farming, this was how Man farmed from when he learnt how to walk upright. Contrast this with the Bernard Mathews where 2,000 birds died of avian flu in one turkey-rearing shed and 159,000 birds at the site had to be destroyed, where turkey meat is being shipped around the country and across Europe.

Proponents of the poultry industry would say they provide us with cheap food. They don't, all they do is externalise their costs. Society picks up the bill.

If we want decent food, then we have to be prepared to pay for it.

Do we really expect to pay the same price for a chicken as a cup of crap coffee at Starbucks and there not be a hidden cost somewhere?

A major outbreak of bird flu in the UK has woken up the population to how bad is the poultry industry.

Bird flu passes from infected birds to humans. There is no reason why it should not pass from human to human. The WHO has warned that if avian flu mutated and attached itself to human flu, the consequences would be devastating. The medical journal The Lancet has warned that if it became contagious among the human population, the prospect of a worldwide pandemic was 'massively frightening'.

The outbreak of avian flu at the Bernard Mathews turkey-rearing sheds in Suffolk, has exposed the tip of the iceberg of a vile, foul industry.



Bird flu farm 'continued exports', BBC News on-line, 12 February 2007

Joanna Blythman, Shopped: The Shocking Power of British Supermarkets, Fourth Estate, 2004

Joanna Blythman, Bad Food Britain, Fourth Estate, 2006

Benedict Brogan and Sean Poulter, Bird flu: Is Bernard Matthews to blame?, Daily Mail, 9 February 2007

Sherrod Brown, Myths of Free Trade, The New Press, 2006

Hungary import 'link' to bird flu, BBC News on-line, 8 February 2007

Michael F Jacobson and Bruce Maxwell, What Are We Feeding Our Kids?, Workman Publishing, 1994

KFC fined £13,000 over unfit food, BBC News on-line, 23 December 2004

KFC fined for undercooked chicken, BBC News on-line, 28 September 2005

Andrew Kimbrell (ed), Fatal Harvest: The Tragedy of Industrial Agriculture, Island Press, 2002

Felicity Lawrence, Fowl play, The Guardian, 8 July 2002,2763,751244,00.html

Felicity Lawrence, Not on the Label: What Really Goes Into the Food on Your Plate, Penguin, 2004

David Lindsell, Superbugs still on the rise, The Rush, 8 February 2007

Miliband defends bird flu moves, BBC News on-line, 11 February 2007

Jamie Oliver, Jamie's Dinners, Michael Joseph, 2004

Jamie Oliver, Cook With Jamie: My Guide to Making You a Better Cook, Michael Joseph, 2006

Oliver's school meal crusade goes on, BBC New on-line, 4 September 2006

Keith Parkins, Sowing Seeds of Dissent, Indymedia UK, 6 September 2004

Keith Parkins, Seeds of Dissent, September 2004

Keith Parkins, MP promotes junk food, Indymedia UK, 17 January 2007

Keith Parkins, MP yet again pictured promoting McDonald's, Indymedia UK, 19 January 2007

Keith Parkins, Big problem with our MP's Big Mac, letters, Surrey-Hants Star, 25 January 2007

Keith Parkins, So, does our MP provide us with a junk service?, letters, Aldershot News, 26 January 2007

Keith Parkins, Seedy Sunday Brighton 2007, Indymedia UK, 6 February 2007

Keith Parkins, Avian influenza, Indymedia UK, 9 February 2007

Keith Parkins, Why do we feed our kids junk food?, Indymedia UK, 12 February 2007

Keith Parkins, Bad Food Britain, to be published

Rare steak 'is safe to eat', BBC News on-line, 25 May 2004

Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation, Penguin/Allen Lane, 2001

Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation, The Ecologist, April 2004

Shop chickens 'rife' with food bug, BBC News on-line, 16 August 2001

Lewis Smith and Valerie Elliott, Meat from bird-flu farm ‘was sent abroad’, The Times, 12 February 2007

Super Size Me! {DVD}

Superbugs found in chicken survey, BBC News on-line, 16 August 2005

Takeaway outlets 'filthy', BBC News on-line, 1 May 2003

Alice Thomson, If we are what we eat, we're in trouble, Daily Telegraph, 26 February 2005

Colin Tudge, So Shall We Reap, Allen Lane, 2003

Turkey meat examined for bird flu, BBC News on-line, 9 February 2007

Turkey moved from UK 'was safe', BBC News on-line, 12 February 2007

John Vidal, McLibel: Burger Culture on Trial, The New Press, 1997

Keith Parkins
- Homepage: