Tainted egg scandal spreads across Europe

16:24 | 09/08/2017 Global Economy

Supermarkets in Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and Belgium have pulled millions of eggs from their shelves as a scandal widens over contamination by fipronil, an insecticide dangerous to humans.

Animal activists protesting at a poultry farm - where chickens are being culled because of the fipronil crisis - in Witteveen, the Netherlands on Monday - Photo: EPA

Britain and France have also revealed that some insecticide- tainted eggs may have entered their countries.

The Dutch authorities said yesterday that they had started testing chicken meat from poultry farms affected by the scandal to determine whether it, too, has been contaminated. Dutch farming organisation LTO said several million hens may need to be culled at 150 companies in the country, with 300,000 already killed.

Belgium currently has production blocked from 51 farms - a quarter of those nationwide - with fipronil found at 21 farms, although levels were ten times below the maximum EU limit, the country's food safety authority AFSCA said.

Belgium's agriculture minister said he had ordered the agency to report on why it failed to notify neighbouring countries until July 20 despite knowing about fipronil contamination since June.

Germany's agriculture minister has blamed the contamination on criminal activity. "It is criminal, that is very clear," Mr Christian Schmidt told television station ARD yesterday.

It is believed the toxic substance was introduced to poultry farms by a Dutch business named Chickfriend brought in to treat red lice, a parasite in chickens. Media reports that the substance containing the insecticide was supplied by a Belgian firm have not been confirmed.

The French Agriculture Ministry also said on Monday that on July 28, a poultry farm at Pas-de- Calais in northern France was put under surveillance after the farmer told the authorities a Belgian supplier had provided him with the tainted product. The ministry said no eggs from the farm have been sent to market and that the results of testing should be known by the end of the week.

The French government said 13 batches of Dutch eggs contaminated with fipronil have been found at two food-processing factories in central-western France. The Agriculture Ministry said it was unable to say whether any of the products had been shipped to customers.

Britain's Food Standards Agency said it was "urgently investigating the distribution of eggs in the UK", while adding that "the number of eggs involved is very small and the risk to public health is very low".

Fipronil is commonly used in veterinary products to get rid of fleas, lice and ticks. But it is banned from being used to treat animals destined for human consumption, such as chickens. The World Health Organisation considers fipronil to be moderately toxic and says very large quantities can cause organ damage.

Theo Straitstimes