Thinning broiler crops before depletion is a probable vector for campylobacter spread, and the stress it causes could even make the bacteria migrate into the tissue of chicken.
But ending the practice could see increases in imports from countries that have less stringent measures on campy.
Gary Ford, chief poultry adviser for the NFU, said a trial that the union was running with the Food Standards Agency (FSA) was showing promising early results.
He added that farmers “did not like to thin”, given the care and attention that went into poultry production, only for the birds to be stressed by catchers entering a shed mid-flock. Typically 75% of birds are left post-thin, and this is often when campylobacter becomes established in a flock.
Less space to grow poultry
However, Mr Ford warned that, without thinning, the UK poultry industry would lose flexibility and shed space.
“From an economical point of view, thinning is very much ‘bedded in’ to modern poultry production.
“If thinning is ended, how do we find the floor space – is it from countries that are not taking as much of a farm to fork approach to tackling campy as we are?”
With the difficulty that gaining planning permission for new sheds can present, the poultry industry could lose a great deal of capacity, he said.
The range of carcass weights specified would be more difficult to meet, too,” he added.
Mr Ford was presenting at an online forum, hosted by magazine Meat Trades Journal.
Also presenting was Steve Wearne, policy director at the Food Standards Agency, who said the stress thinning causes could make bacteria migrate from the gut of a chicken’s edible tissue.
Dr Steve Moore, of poultry integrator Faccenda Foods, gave a third presentation in which he warned without a “novel intervention” the poultry industry would not meet its targets for reduction by the end of 2015.
He explained Faccenda was running commercial trials on “SonoSteam”, machinery that sits on kill lines in a slaughterhouse and has shown efficiency in killing campylobacter at commercial speeds. The company is currently running trials on the equipment, with results expected to be published in the coming weeks.