Scandal should teach EU to walk on eggs

Updated 2017-08-18 09:55:49 China Daily

The futuristic Europa building in Brussels, the seat of the European Council and the Council of European Union that opened just a few months ago, looks like a "space egg". Ironically, many of the EU's 500 million consumers are caught in a dilemma: to consume, or not to consume eggs.

With eggs containing the banned insecticide residue fipronil being found in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and other EU countries, I too am hesitant to eat eggs. Recently, when I ordered a bowl of udon noodles in a small Japanese restaurant beside the EU headquarters and saw the dish was covered with egg, my first reaction was refusal, although I managed to swallow it finally. Both psychologically and physically, however, I felt uncomfortable for hours after that.

That prompted me to investigate how eggs are sold in Brussels. In one 24-hour grocery just opposite the European Council office, the owner said his shop only sells one brand of eggs and he could guarantee they are safe. In a convenience shop beside the EU headquarters, however, the salesman, pointing at packs of eggs, warned me that I better not buy that brand (of a Belgian company) but the rest was fine.

To my surprise, I found some of "bad" eggs are still being sold in Brussels, although millions of them have been recalled. Which means, if you don't inquire properly, the "bad" eggs could land on your table. It is still not clear how those processed food that contain eggs are being made after the detection of fipronil in eggs.

The egg scandal has widened since July, with the European Commission saying contaminated eggs had been found in 15 EU countries till last week. They have also appeared in Switzerland, a non-EU country, and China's Hong Kong, signaling the spread of the egg scandal outside Europe. Hong Kong's Centre for Food Safety found two samples of imported Dutch eggs contained fipronil and ordered the total recall of the two batches.

The Netherlands is the biggest egg producer in Europe as well as one of the largest egg exporters in the world. The egg scandal hit the headlines in July. Some reports, however, claim Belgian officials knew about the contamination in June but preferred not to inform the public about it.

Now, of course 180 poultry farms in the Netherlands, which together used to supply millions of eggs per week, have been temporally closed. And a criminal investigation has been launched, centering on two firms-Poultry Vision, a Belgium-based pest control company, which reportedly sold the treatment to a Dutch poultry farm cleaning company, Chickfriend.

European experts, however, have played down the dangers of eating eggs with fipronil, which, despite being banned by the food regulator, was used in poultry farms to combat lice. Some say the eggs would harm humans only if they eat them every day throughout their lives.

Even though the egg scandal is spreading and the EU is known for its strict food safety regulations, the European Union, whose officials are now on holiday shift, has no plans to hold an urgent meeting before the end of September, when EU agricultural ministers are scheduled to meet.

The egg scandal is a serious food scare that needs immediate action. To begin with, the EU should ban fipronil, take strict measures to ensure contaminated eggs do not enter the market, and hold those responsible for the scandal accountable. It should also timely inform the public about the egg scandal.

Many farms in Europe have suffered from the EU's sanctions against Russia, which have reduced their exports of agricultural products in recent years, perhaps forcing them to cut corners to make up for the lost revenues and profits.

But we hope the affected poultry farms emerge stronger from the egg scandal and take stricter measures to ensure that the eggs on our dining tables are absolutely safe.

The author, Fu Jing, is deputy chief of China Daily European Bureau.

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