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18th Jan 2019

Egg scare prompts EU to consider national food safety officers

  • Millions of eggs were destroyed over the summer over a health scare involving fipronil. (Photo: https://unsplash.com/@foodiesfeed)

Member states have agreed on Tuesday (26 September) to consider appointing a single "food safety officer" to improve communications in the case of food contamination.

The ministerial conference was held to look back on the fipronil crisis that took place in the EU over the summer.

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  • Andriukaitis: 'We will consider how to establish a food safety officer in each member state'. (Photo: European Commission)

Eggs were sold by Dutch and Belgian farmers, who had bought insecticides that illegally contained fipronil. The incident was marked with conflicting reports by authorities. Millions of eggs were destroyed, and millions of chickens were culled preemptively.

The incident saw the Belgian agriculture minister, Denis Ducarme, accuse the Netherlands of having been aware of the problem as early as 2016. On the other hand, Belgium was accused of not informing its neighbours on time.

But according to Dutch caretaker minister for agriculture, Henk Kamp, Tuesday's meeting took place in a "constructive" atmosphere.

The question of who knew what (or when) was not discussed, he told EUobserver and Dutch media after the conference.

"Not once was there any finger-pointing towards countries or the European Commission," he said.

"There was the strong feeling that this is a common problem and that we have a common interest to make sure if something similar happens, [the response] is better," said Kamp.

"Today's dialogue allowed us to identify several strategic and systematic actions needed at member state and European Union level," said Vytenis Andriukaitis, the EU commissioner in charge of food safety.

The ministers adopted a declaration, which said the commission should develop a "management plan for food and feed incidents" and to define "the criteria when the coordination at EU level should be triggered by member states".

They also agreed that there should be procedures "to ensure a rapid common risk assessment that can serve as basis for a co-ordinated risk management approach at EU level".

Dutch minister Kamp said that, during the fipronil crisis, member states gained experience with dedicated liaison officers.

"We agreed that we would continue that by setting up points of contact in each country," he said.

The official conclusions, and Andriukaitis, suggested the agreement was slightly more tentative.

"We will consider how to establish a food safety officer in each member state to make sure information flows as fast and efficiently as possible," said the Lithuanian commissioner.

The conclusions tread carefully, saying that establishing such an officer should be "considered".

It said the follow-up plans will be "further discussed" in an EU working group.

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