Marks & Spencer. Two steps forward but one step back ethically.

sliding_down_corporate_ladder_500_wht_7258I was impressed by the steps Marks & Spencer (M&S) was making in reducing the number of infected chickens in our supermarkets.

And M&S seemed to be the only company taking a stand against stocking John West tuna on ethical grounds.

So far so good.

Then I read that M&S were refusing to cut the prices of their goods in hospital shops. You might recall that M&S and WH Smith had all been accused of profiteering by inflating prices on hospital sites where they had a captive consumer group. Gift cards, flowers, and snacks were all priced higher than on the high street.

The companies blamed higher operating costs (a bit like petrol on motorways then?). As a result W H Smith promised to review prices to ensure that hospital customers were not overcharged. So good on them.

M&S however, despite meeting with labour MP Paula Sherriff, who has led a campaign against these higher charges, insists it is the fault of the NHS for charging high rents. Sherriff says “Patients feel like they’re getting their pockets picked to prop up the profits of one of Britain’s biggest brands. The biggest premium os on flowers and that’s just wrong – there will be people in desperate circumstances who want to look after loved ones and these shops are making a quick buck. You have to ask what’s happened to the values behind this brand

M&S says “Prices can be higher in these locations due to increased running costs such as longer opening hours and higher rents”

Now I struggle to believe that renting a corner of a hospital is dearer than renting on the high street but what do I know. And why would longer opening hours be more expensive as long as they are selling stuff and have shift patterns in place to avoid overtime (which I doubt they pay anyway).

So shame on you M&S.


Supermarkets still putting profits before your health

j0262899Almost 300,000 people are poisoned very year by contaminated chickens but the supermarkets refuse to put in place measures which would reduce that and the 100 deaths.

And all for 10p a chicken.

Almost a fifth of chickens sold in supermarkets are heavily contaminated by campylobacter.

75% of them tested positive and in 7% of cases the outside of the packaging was infected (something the Food Standards Agency has warned about in respect of using “bags for life” so pack raw foods separately).

Supermarkets are not going to meet the FSA target of reducing the proportion of chickens heavily infected by December.

This is because of the price war and farmers reluctance to stop the practice of thinning out the chicken sheds which involves workers taking out birds so that the others can grow bigger (not doing this would reduce the weight of each bird by a fifth) but in the process carrying infections into the sheds on their boots and machinery. The process also stresses the remaining birds who are then more susceptible to disease. and infection.

Not thinning would halve the infection rate. Only Marks and Spencer and Waitrose have ordered their farmers to stop thinning their chicken houses.

Supermarkets in UK still selling contaminated chickens

Despite attempts by the Food Standards Agency to “name and shame” supermarkets there has been no reduction in chickens heavily contaminated with campylobacter, a major source of food poisoning causing 100 deaths a year.

In fact the proportion of heavily contaminated chickens has increased overall from 17% to 21%.

Asda has the worst record with almost 30% of its chickens having more than1,000 campylobacter bacteria per gram. Asda said that one of its chicken suppliers, Faccenda Foods, would start blasting birds with steam and ultrasound which can reduce the bacteria by 80%. However this process will only apply to 30% of Asda’s chickens so you’re playing Russian roulette when you buy a chicken from Asda.

The FSA said Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, The Co-op, and Waitrose had produced plans to reduce the problem and shared some results with the agency unlike Tesco and Sainsbury.

The results over the last year for heavily contaminated chicken were:

  • Asda 29.7%
  • Morrisons 22%
  • Co-op 19.1%
  • Waitrose 18.4%
  • M & S 17.4%
  • Sainsbury’s 16.4%
  • Tesco 12%

Increasingly chickens are being sold in bags which reduces the need to wash the chicken (which can spread the bacteria) or touch the skin with your hands.

No supermarket yet meets the standard agreed in 2010 of less than 10% of chickens having high levels of bacterial contamination.

See previous posts here

Supermarket chickens – not much to choose between them when it comes to infection

black_skull_bones_1600_wht_3964The FSA has now released the names of the supermarkets selling infected chickens together with the results of the tests for campylobacter.

It seems that 70% of all the chickens we buy at supermarkets are infected to some degree with this bug that causes food poisoning.

ASDA has come out the worst for contamination at the highest risk level with 28% of chickens affected

Marks & Spencer is next worst at the high level with 22% followed by Morrisons at 21%.

Tesco came out much better at 11%.

All the supermarkets had between approximately 2/3 and 3/4 of their chickens contaminated at all risk levels and no retailer has yet achieved the 10% maximum target for the highest risk level which they agreed to do in 2010 by the end of next year.

Campylobacter is the biggest cause of food poisoning in the UK, responsible for 280,000 cases a year, and around 100 deaths but is easily killed by thorough cooking.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has issued advice on how to store and cook chickens.

See also earlier post on this topic


Supermarkets selling contaminated chickens

whats_for_dinner_1600_wht_11336Despite knowing that the chickens on their shelves are contaminated with a potentially lethal bacterium campylobacter. This makes almost 300,000 people ill each year.

The British Poultry Council, which represents chicken producers, has admitted that of the 5,000 batches of chicken randomly selected at slaughterhouses for testing, 24% – that’s almost a quarter or 1 in 4 – tested positive for the highest levels of contamination.

These results were sent to retailers within 2 days but by that time the chickens were already on the supermarkets’ shelves. The shocking thing is that no action was taken to remove them or warn shoppers which batches were affected.

The Council’s Director of Food Policy, Richard Griffiths, also declined to publish results from the survey showing which slaughterhouses had the highest contamination rates and which retailers they supplied.

Experts all agree that this is not acceptable with consumer group Which? calling for more transparency in the public interest and Professor Eric Millstone from the University of Sussex saying supermarkets should put systems in place so they can quickly withdraw these contaminated batches from sale. He also thinks that all this information should be in the public domain so customers can make informed choices.

The British Retail Consortium, which represents major retailers, said its members were not required by the Food Standards Agency to withdraw contaminated chickens. They said the tests were only carried out to check hygiene standards and publishing the results would only confuse shoppers. They said “we need to maintain the strong message that all chicken should be handled with care”.

What a condescending response. It thinks we are too stupid to understand that we run the risk of food poisoning if we buy a chicken at a particular supermarket! But the British Retail Consortium does all it can to protect its members from any criticism. And in the meantime the supermarkets try to pull the wool over our eyes and sell us food not fit for purpose.

What is the Food Standards Agency (FSA) doing about it? In the Summer retailers tried to prevent the FSA from publishing full results of a survey of chickens sold in shops. But next week it will name and shame those retailers with the highest rates of campylobacter contamination.


btw we’ve also had an outbreak of bird flu. The largest supplier of duck meat in Britain took 6 days to tell the Animal & Plant Health Agency (APHA) it might have a problem as the ducks had stopped laying. This is apparently well-known to be an early indicator of bird flu. The company, Cherry Valley, originally said it contacted the authorities on the same day it noticed the drop in egg-laying but said it had made mistake and retracted that statement when Defra contradicted it.

6,000 ducks have been slaughtered and Defra imposed a 6-mile restriction zone at the farm in Nafferton, East Yorkshire. The strain identifies, H5N8, has not been associated with infection in humans and DEfra says that the advice from Public Health England and the chief medical officer is that the risk to public health is low. And the FSA said there is no safety risk for consumers

 It’s clear we can’t trust food producers and retailers to tell us the truth about contaminated products. Supermarket bosses must know about these problems but daren’t tell us in case they lose customers. So when they are not actually misleading you, they are keeping you in the dark. And shame on you Richard Griffiths for not acting in the public interest.