The Labour Party has accused the government of a “complacent” attitude to tackling widespread campylobacter contamination in chicken.
Speaking in the House of Commons, shadow Defra secretary Maria Eagle said her opposite number Liz Truss was responsible for food production and processing, but had simply handed the issue over to the Department of Health.
Two weeks ago, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) released survey results showing that 70% of supermarket chicken was contaminated with campylobacter and 18% carried high levels.
Ms Eagle said food poisoning caused by the bug cost the economy and the NHS £900m a year in days off work and treatment costs.
Campylobacter made 280,000 people ill each year and killed an estimated 100, she added.
In a Commons debate, she also criticised farm minister George Eustice. “When is he going to stop being the mouthpiece of the food poisoners and start being the champion of consumers?” Ms Eagle said.
Mr Eustice said the FSA took the lead on food safety and the issue was the responsibility of the Department of Health.
He said the FSA had run a campaign to raise public awareness of the problem, published the results of its testing and was leading a project to develop a blast-chilling system that kills the bug.
“I totally reject the notion of being complacent,” Mr Eustice said. “Within the first week of taking this job a year ago, I had the chief veterinary officer and deputy chief veterinary officer give me a briefing on this issue.”