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Denmark Sees Costs, Benefits of Trying to Eradicate Salmonella

(Editor’s note: This is Part Three of a recent four-part series by Lynne Terry on how Salmonella in poultry is handled in Denmark and the U.S. The series is being republished by permission from The Oregonian. Part One is here, Part Two is here, and Part Four will run tomorrow.)

When Denmark adopted its National Salmonella Control Program in 1996, the government largely funded reimbursements to farmers who had to destroy flocks.

In 2002, government funding stopped and industry took over.

Though farmers received payment for condemned birds, they had to pay for sanitation measures and testing. Positive tests crimped earnings. If Salmonella turned up, processors paid them less.

“We started to pay according to quality,” said Jacob Roland Pedersen, lead veterinarian and senior manager of Danpo, Denmark’s largest poultry processor. “Money talks.”

Hatcheries, which had to produce Salmonella-free birds, were squeezed. In the mid-1990s, Denmark had four or five hatcheries, Roland Pedersen said. Today, there is only one: DanHatch.

The crackdown on Salmonella came with higher prices in the stores.

“In the 1980s, it was very cheap to eat chicken,” said Karin Froidt, food safety manager of Co-op Denmark, the country’s largest grocer.

Today, Danish consumers pay about $6 per pound for chicken meat, about double the average price in the United States.

But with the costs came benefits. Officials in the National Food Institute estimate that the crackdown prevented 150,000 illnesses between 1997 and 2004 alone, saving about $63 million in medical care and workdays.

Other European countries

Denmark is not the only country in Europe that has tried to eradicate Salmonella in poultry. Sweden was the first to adopt controls in the 1960s. Finland and Britain have enacted their own programs, and the European Union set deadlines for all member states. They had to cut rates for Salmonella Typhimurium and Salmonella Enteritidis, two strains common in poultry, to 2 percent for hens by Dec. 31, 2010, and 1 percent for broilers by Dec. 31, 2011.

The EU has not completely eliminated Salmonella in poultry, nor has Denmark. But the country has reduced contamination to almost nothing. Now Denmark is focusing on another bacteria, Campylobacter, also associated with poultry.

U.S. health officials say processors in this country could learn a lot from the Danes and other Europeans.

“What we learn from the Danes and others who’ve had some success in controlling Salmonella is that important reductions are possible,” said Dr. Robert Tauxe, a foodborne illness expert at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Good public health surveillance and working with industry to find control measures that could be implemented – that is a model.”

The key, according to the Danes, is cooperation. Everyone – industry, government, researchers, retailers and consumers – has to be on board.

“You cannot do it by yourself,” said Roland Pedersen.

© Food Safety News