While Salmonella is coming increasingly under control in Europe's poultry flocks, Campylobacter remains the biggest cause of foodborne diseases in the region, delegates at the XVIII World Veterinary Poultry Association Congress were told.

According to Gilles Salvat, laboratory director and director of animal health and welfare with the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupation Health (ANSES), the latest statistics from the European Food Standards Authority show that the major problems in Europe with foodborne illnesses are due to Campylobacter, Salmonella and Verotoxigenic E. coli, the latter due to recent outbreaks in Germany and France.

The general trend in foodborne illnesses in Europe, as in the rest of the world, is downward, however progress across Europe has not been even, and in some member states, for Campylobacter in particular, the situation is getting worse. Southern Europe tends to have a higher prevalence than the northern region.

Salvat noted that the first investigations into levels of Campylobacter contamination in France were carried out in 1999-2000, and 45 percent of flocks were found to be positive. A similar level of contamination was expected across member states.

In France, there is a high flock prevalence of Campylobacter irrespective of production type, yet relatively low bacterial counts per carcass. Consumer risk is considered low, because surviving bacteria will be destroyed by cooking. France has a strong free-range poultry sector, and as a result of environmental contamination, the overall figure is pushed up.

He commented that the objective with Campylobacter will be control, and that any thoughts of eradication are simply illusory. Biosecurity on farms needs to be improved, he said, but it needs to be accompanied by stronger consumer education.

However, a different scenario is evident in Europe where Salmonella is concerned. Control measures have been in place for some years now, and Salvat predicted that Salmonella, particularly the serious serotypes, would soon be under control across the region.

Dr. Chuck Hofacre, of the University of Georgia, noted that in the U.S., processing plants are succeeding in reducing bacterial counts on carcasses, but as regulations are tightened, there is only so much that can be achieved at the processing plant. The focus needs to turn more to the poultry farm.

Various methods for reducing Campylobacter, ranging from protocols to products, were presented to delegates.

Marc Decoux, executive manager global poultry marketing with Novus, noted that Campylobacter cost Europe €2.4 billion (US$3.2 billion) in 2011 alone.