Leena Räsänen, director of the food safety department at the Finnish Food Safety Authority, is pleased with how meat production is handled in Finland. She underlines the importance of a controlled use of antibiotics for the health of the whole society.
If animals are medicated in vain, the pathogenic bacteria become resistant and medicines will have no effect.
If microbes develop this kind of resistance, the treatment of diseases caused by bacteria will become more difficult. As resistance or resistant microbes can be transmitted from animals to humans, it will be as if we are going back in time to the pre-antibiotic era.
“It is an alarming threat. Back then people would die from normal inflammations,” Räsänen says. Today, when big operations are performed in hospitals, people must be able to trust that no threat is posed by resistant microbes. Of course, good animal health is important also for meat producers. When animals are healthy, costs remain moderate.
The world is awed by the lack of salmonella
That the Finnish chicken production is free of salmonella is unique in the world. “I used to work at the European Commission and my colleagues would always marvel at the situation we have in Finland,” Räsänen explains.
The truth is that in the 1970s Finland was still struggling with the same problem as everybody else. Food poisonings caused by the salmonella bacterium were very common. That is when chicken production was introduced to strict hygiene practices and disease prevention measures.
Notably, producers began to pay more attention to the purity of the feed. These measures prevented infections and got rid of salmonella and other diseases. This has increased the profitability of chicken production. A similar reform is currently ongoing within pig rearing.
The EU has a strict programme for monitoring foreign substances, and the use of any growth enhancing substances, i.e. hormones, in meat production is forbidden. No such substances have ever been found in Finnish meat. The residues of permissible medicines, such as antibiotics, and of other foreign substances are also monitored. In Finland, residues are found only incidentally, in no more than 1–3 animals per year.
Added value from the clean Nordic nature
Räsänen lists some of Finland's strengths: “Clean water is the cornerstone of food safety. We have clean water and there is enough to go around for both plants and animals as well as for households and industries. Polluted water will easily cause problems. For example, in many countries, plants are watered with wastewater.”
In Finland, supply chains are shorter. The rearing and slaughtering conditions of animals can be tracked quickly. If there ever is a problem, it can quickly be brought under control.
The fact that the producer allows their picture to be printed on the package is a sign of professional pride and confidence to guarantee high quality.
Pigs at Finnish farms get to keep their tails. Tail-docking is practised in almost all European countries as a countermeasure against stressed pigs biting each other's tails. The fact that this is not done in Finland is a sign of the pigs' good health and proper conditions.
“It's nice to be Finnish when foreign delegations are visiting. The guests are always amazed by how we do things here,” Räsänen says.
“It's nice to be Finnish when foreign delegations are visiting.”
Visitors have been especially impressed by the antibiotic-free chicken, the controlled use of antimicrobials, and the fact that pigs have their tails left.
Soon they will be able to marvel at the antibiotic-free rearing of pigs.