Campylobacter infection of broiler chickens in a free-range environment.
Colles FM., Jones TA., McCarthy ND., Sheppard SK., Cody AJ., Dingle KE., Dawkins MS., Maiden MC.
Campylobacter jejuni is the most common cause of bacterial gastroenteritis worldwide, with contaminated chicken meat considered to represent a major source of human infection. Biosecurity measures can reduce C. jejuni shedding rates of housed chickens, but the increasing popularity of free-range and organic meat raises the question of whether the welfare benefits of extensive production are compatible with food safety. The widespread assumption that the free-range environment contaminates extensively reared chickens has not been rigorously tested. A year-long survey of 64 free-range broiler flocks reared on two sites in Oxfordshire, UK, combining high-resolution genotyping with behavioural and environmental observations revealed: (i) no evidence of colonization of succeeding flocks by the C. jejuni genotypes shed by preceding flocks, (ii) a high degree of similarity between C. jejuni genotypes from both farm sites, (iii) no association of ranging behaviour with likelihood of Campylobacter shedding, and (iv) higher genetic differentiation between C. jejuni populations from chickens and wild birds on the same farm than between the chicken samples, human disease isolates from the same region and national samples of C. jejuni from chicken meat.