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New strategy to tackle food poisoning bug

21 July 2010

A new research strategy to tackle the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK has been launched today.

The UK's main public funders of food safety research have joined together to publish a co-ordinated strategy to investigate the food bug Campylobacter. This is the first time these organisations have agreed to a common set of objectives to tackle the problem.

BBSRC, Defra, the Food Standards Agency (FSA), the Northern Ireland Department for Agriculture and Rural Development and the Scottish Government have all agreed to support the strategy. BBSRC, Defra, FSA and the Scottish Government are also all partners in the recently launched, multi-agency Global Food Security programme, in which research underpinning the provision of safe food has been identified as a priority.

The most recent figures suggest that 65% of raw shop-bought chicken is contaminated with Campylobacter. Although cooking chicken properly will kill the bug, it is responsible for more than 300,000 cases of food poisoning and 15,000 hospitalisations a year in England and Wales.

Experts agree that there is no single solution to this problem, but the new strategy aims to identify a range of mechanisms that could significantly reduce the levels of Campylobacter in the food chain and reduce the incidence of human disease. The new strategy includes:

  • Research to understand current infection incidences, current food and farming practices and potential intervention strategies
  • Studies of the biology of Campylobacter and the animal hosts
  • The development of new tools and diagnostic techniques (for example, feasibility of developing a rapid on-farm test for Campylobacter)

A number of different delivery mechanisms, coordinated by all the funders, will be used to implement this strategy. The first calls for research are already in progress, with a further call expected later in the year. The strategy is focussed on coordinating existing spend on Campylobacter research and does not involve the commitment of new money.

Liz Redmond, veterinary director and head of food hygiene policy at the Food Standards Agency, said: 'There is no one magic bullet to solve the problem of Campylobacter, but a better understanding of the science will allow us to work out which combination of solutions are best for the UK.

'This is the first time such a multi-agency research strategy has been agreed, with clear joined-up objectives aimed at delivering a more coherent evidence base targeting better food security.

'The Campylobacter reduction programme will be underpinned by research around the organism itself and the effect it has on its host, coupled with developing a better knowledge of the impact of various potential interventions. We look forward to working with all our partners and the food industry to make this strategy a success.'

Professor Douglas Kell, BBSRC Chief Executive, said: 'Ensuring food security for everyone is not just about putting more food on plates. The food we eat needs to be as safe as we can make it and the prevalence of Campylobacter demonstrates the challenge we face. By working together with these partners we can deploy all the relevant parts of the UK's world-class research base to minimise the impact of Campylobacter.'

ENDS

About BBSRC

BBSRC is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £470M in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life in the UK and beyond and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders, including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.

BBSRC provides institute strategic research grants to the following:

  • The Babraham Institute
  • Institute for Animal Health
  • Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (Aberystwyth University)
  • Institute of Food Research
  • John Innes Centre
  • The Genome Analysis Centre
  • The Roslin Institute (University of Edinburgh)
  • Rothamsted Research

The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities. They have strong interactions with industry, Government departments and other end-users of their research.