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Consumer watchdog: Salmonella can also come from free-range and organic eggs

After a European salmonella outbreak made hundreds ill, a Bavarian egg farm has come under suspicion. Foodwatch warned that labels and seals do not always mean eggs are safe, nor that the animals receive adequate care.

Berlin-based consumer protection organization Foodwatch warned about the state of food animal farming and called for

stronger regulations for maintaining animals

on Thursday. This follows an outbreak of salmonella that killed two and sickened hundreds, thought to have hailed from a Bavarian company.

The source of the outbreak is believed to be Bavarian egg producer Bayern-Ei. The district attorney for the city of Regensburg is investigating whether the company "brought dangerous food onto the market" in the past year, while animal rights activists have criticized the company for keeping large groups of chickens in small, overcrowded cages.

Theo Ziegler, senior public prosecutor in Regensburg, said that should their suspicions be confirmed, the firm would have to answer for the two deaths following the outbreak in mid-2014. Hundreds of people in Germany, the UK, Austria, France and Luxembourg fell ill from the same strain of salmonella.

Officials in Britain and Austria, which each lost a citizen to the outbreak, claim they are certain at least one of the deaths can be traced to Bayern-Ei.

Free-range and organic do not guarantee safety

Foodwatch cautioned in a report on the egg industry that no matter what the nature of egg production - free-range, cage-free, caged or organic - the humane treatment and safety of the products is not guaranteed.

"Neither the form of farming nor voluntary seals and initiatives ensure that the owners keep their animals healthy and care for them in the best way possible," said Luise Molling, Foodwatch's expert on animal husbandry.

Foodwatch's report says that "sick, suffering chickens can also come from organic and free-range farms," and that "violent pecking and cannibalism are widespread."

Bayern-Ei is one of the largest egg producers in Germany, and owns more than a million hens. It delivers eggs to dozens of European countries.

es/msh (AFP, dpa)

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