SIXTEEN YEARS after her remarks about salmonella in eggs rocked the poultry industry, Edwina Currie gave the thumbs-up to British Lion eggs at the start of British Egg Week last month.

Then later in the same week, British egg producers called for a ban on Spanish imports

Andrew Parker, chairman of the British Egg Industry Council highlighted that support from Mrs Currie is the ultimate accolade for the industry, reflecting the huge progress over the past decade.

At the time of the crisis, he recalled that there was much denial and amazement that the poultry industry had a problem as large as the media made out.

Speaking at the launch, Mrs Currie remains adamant that when she was junior health minister in 1988, she couldn’t ignore a department of health report showing 500 cases/week of salmonella, many traced to a new host – eggs.

“Over the 16 years since, the British egg industry has spent over £20m putting its house in order and unlike many other industries, they‘ve done it without subsidies. It is a British farming success, one of very few seen in recent years.”

Most UK eggs are now produced under the stringent food safety standards of the British Lion scheme, which includes vaccination of hens against salmonella enteritidis.

Since the latest Food Standards Agency and Health Protection Agency reports published earlier this year found no salmonella infected eggs, Mrs Currie felt that she had to back the industry now eggs are safe. 

So as part of British Egg Week, she took centre stage to encourage people to cook their own perfect omelette, and she has even put eggs back on the menu at the House of Commons.

Her contribution to the BEIC ‘My perfect Omelette‘ booklet is a Spanish omelette. “But while my recipe is of Spanish origin, only British Lion eggs should be used.”

Sponsoring the event, Owen Paterson MP, shadow Agriculture and Food minister, highlighted that imported eggs remains a problem.

“It‘s wrong that this success is being undermined by other eggs where their industry has not sorted out their salmonella problem.”

Later in British Egg Week, the Health Protection Agency and the Food Standards Agency announced that they are to step up action on salmonella in Spanish eggs.

The HPA has investigated more than 80 outbreaks of Salmonella enteritidis in the past two years, with at least 2,000 confirmed cases, and the evidence shows that the use by the catering trade of Spanish eggs is a major source of this infection.

A national outbreak control team, which includes the FSA, was convened by the HPA to look at this problem, and recommended that various actions should be taken, in the UK and in Europe, to prevent further people from becoming ill.

This includes alerting caterers to the risks to health that are clearly associated with some non-UK eggs.

FSA head of microbiological safety Judith Hilton added that since January 2004, these eggs have had to be marked ‘ES‘ so both caterers and consumers know that they will need to take extra care if they use these eggs, or they may choose to use UK eggs, marked ‘UK‘, which we know have far fewer problems.

“We are also pressing the European Commission to take further action to tackle this problem.”

However, the British Egg Industry Council (BEIC) has condemned both the UK Government and the European Commission for not taking quicker action against Spanish eggs, which have caused several salmonella outbreaks in the UK over the past two years.

Mr Parker said: “It is ridiculous that two years after the problem with Spanish eggs first became apparent no action has been taken. It is now time for the UK Government to ban Spanish eggs.”

The BEIC reiterated advice for consumers and caterers to look for the British Lion mark for the safest eggs in the world.

The latest HPA results showed nearly 6% of Spanish eggs tested positive for salmonella while in the same investigation, salmonella was not recovered from any UK eggs produced under the Lion Code of Practice.