Contaminated eggs scandal underlines need to enhance food safety coordination within EU

Updated 2017-08-11 10:55:36 Xinhua
Photo taken on Aug. 9, 2017 shows eggs sold in a Belgian market, in Brussels, Belgium. Millions of contaminated eggs were withdrawn from the market last week in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Switzerland, after it was discovered that the eggs had presence of fipronil. (Xinhua/Ye Pingfan)

Photo taken on Aug. 9, 2017 shows eggs sold in a Belgian market, in Brussels, Belgium. Millions of contaminated eggs were withdrawn from the market last week in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Switzerland, after it was discovered that the eggs had presence of fipronil. (Xinhua/Ye Pingfan)

Several European countries are affected by fipronil-contaminated eggs, causing millions of eggs to be removed from shelves in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands.

So far, contaminated eggs from the Netherlands have been found in Belgium, Germany, France and Britain.

France's agriculture ministry confirmed that 13 batches of Dutch eggs contaminated with the insecticide fipronil were delivered to France between July 11 and July 26. Investigations are being carried out to assess where the concerned products have ended up.

Britain's Food Standards Agency said in a statement released on Thursday that nearly 700,000 eggs from Dutch farms affected by the insecticide Fipronil may have been distributed to Britain.

It's a significant increase compared with the agency's earlier estimate of 21,000. But considering the figure only represents 0.007 percent of the eggs consumed in the UK every year, the agency said it is "very unlikely" that there is any risk to public health from consuming these foods.

And investigations to date indicated that any affected products are no longer on the British shelves.

Anna-Kaisa Itkonen, a spokeswoman of European Commission, notified Sweden and Switzerland to take measures for the contaminated eggs may have entered their markets.

Fipronil is a pesticide effective on a large number of pests. It is considered slightly poisonous by the World Health Organization (WHO) and is hence forbidden on animals destined for the food chain to prevent damage to the human liver, thyroid and kidney.

According to Itkonen, Belgian authorities informed the Commission of their findings on July 20, while the authorities of Netherlands and Germany informed on July 26 and 31 respectively.

In the Netherlands, a total of 147 poultry companies remain closed due to the production of eggs containing the pesticide fipronil, stated the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority. Investigations showed that the poultry holders used a treatment against blood lice by firm Chickfriend.

Mina Andreeva, a spokeswoman of European Commission, said member states have a legal obligation to notify the commission's rapid alert system immediately if they have information of threat to human health.

In the European Union, the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) was created in 1979 and enables information to be shared between its members (EU-28 national food safety authorities, Commission, EFSA, ESA, Norway, Liechtenstein, Iceland and Switzerland).

Initial analysis in Belgium revealed a level of 0.076 mg/kg of fipronil, which was well below the European safety threshold of 0.72 mg/kg. However, a second analysis revealed a rate of 0.92 mg/kg, which exceeds this European safety threshold.

With the development of the scandal, legal procedures have started in some of the countries affected.

The Dutch public prosecutor said on Thursday that two people have been arrested in the country for involvement into the contamination.

In total the Intelligence and Investigation Services of the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA-IOD) searched on eight different Dutch locations. It is a joint action by the Dutch and Belgian authorities.

The Belgian Federal Police on Thursday conducted eight raids in Belgium in connection with the investigation into the contamination of eggs, said the Antwerp public prosecutor's office.

A spokesman of Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel confirmed Thursday that Belgium will set up a task force to examine all possible measures to support the poultry sector following the insecticide-contaminated egg scandal.

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