EU summit sought over major egg contamination scare

eggs
(Stephen Ausmus photo courtesy ARS/USDA)

Brussels | Reuters –– The European Commissioner in charge of food safety has called for a meeting of ministers and national regulatory agencies to discuss a widespread European contamination scare, which has seen shops remove millions of eggs from sale.

Tensions have risen between agricultural ministers in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany after traces of the moderately toxic insecticide fipronil were found in batches of eggs, linked by authorities to a Dutch supplier of cleaning products.

While initially the Belgian food safety regulator drew criticism from abroad for not acting fast enough after being made aware of fipronil contamination, Belgium’s agriculture minister on Wednesday said it was the Dutch who were too slow to respond to inquiries.

“Blaming and shaming will bring us nowhere and I want to stop this,” EU Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis told Reuters in a statement.

Andriukaitis said he hoped to convene a meeting before the end of September of the ministers concerned, along with various national food safety agency representatives.

“We need to work together to draw lessons learned and move forward instead of losing energy on finger pointing,” he said.

The German agriculture ministry said Andriukaitis would also meet ministers of the affected countries on the sidelines of an already scheduled agricultural summit in Estonia in early September.

Fifteen EU countries

Millions of eggs have been pulled from European supermarket shelves, though some national regulators have voiced concern that many contaminated eggs have already entered the food chain, mainly through processed products such as biscuits, cakes and salads.

A European Commission spokesman said contaminated eggs had been found in 15 EU countries, as well as non-EU members Switzerland and Hong Kong.

He added that farms were blocked in four EU countries — Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands — because they had used cleaning products containing fipronil.

Poland’s food safety regulator said on Friday that it had seized 40,000 peeled hard-boiled eggs from a batch produced in the Netherlands that was possibly contaminated with fipronil.

The eggs were delivered to Polish food processing firms by a German supplier, but have not reached Polish consumers, spokesman for the Polish regulator GIS, Jan Bondar, said.

While a large number of contaminated eggs would need to be eaten to affect health, fipronil is considered moderately toxic and can cause organ damage in humans.

It is widely used to treat pets for ticks and fleas but its use in the food chain — for example, to clean out barns — is forbidden.

Dutch authorities on Thursday arrested two directors of the company at the centre of the safety scare, with prosecutors saying they suspected them of threatening public health and possession of a prohibited pesticides.

Reporting for Reuters by Robert-Jan Bartunek; additional reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel and Marcin Goettig.

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