Sunday

17th Feb 2019

Bad information increases contaminated eggs scare

  • Hundred of thousands of chickens have already been culled as a precaution. (Photo: mamichan)

The Belgian parliament is to hold an extraordinary meeting over the spread of contaminated eggs, as new information has raised questions on the efficiency of the EU's alert system.

Belgian agriculture and health ministers Denis Ducarme and Maggie De Block will be heard by MEPs on Wednesday (9 August), in order to clarify why it took authorities more that a month to raise the alert over potentially toxic eggs.

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On Saturday, a spokeswoman for the Belgian food agency admitted that it had known since early June that there was "potentially a problem" with fipronil, a highly toxic pesticide, finding its way into eggs.

Although the eggs were removed from some supermarkets in July, the information was only passed on to other countries late in the month.

The contamination of eggs with fipronil originated in three farms in the Netherlands, where millions of eggs have been taken off the shelves, as well as in Germany.

Over the weekend, the Netherlands and Germany released information that eggs were also exported to Sweden, Switzerland, France and the UK.

Between 300,000 and 350,000 chickens have already been killed as a precaution in the Netherlands.

"We follow this very very closely," European Commission spokeswoman Anna-Kaisa Itkone said on Monday.

She insisted that "all the eggs are traceable and trackable", but the commission admitted that it didn't know the real extent of the problem.

The EU executive has no power to recommend safety measures or order eggs to be removed from the market, but it manages the alert system.

"Our job here is to disseminate information on the basis of whenever food products are circulated freely in our internal market," commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva told journalists, also on Monday.

She said that national authorities are "best placed" to make recommendations.

"In order to do our job we first need the information to arrive from one of the member states, in order for us for to disseminate [it] within the system - what we have done," she added, suggesting that some countries, like Belgium, did not properly follow the procedures.

Dutch and Belgian prosecutors are investigating why and how a toxic pesticide made its way into eggs and how these eggs could be sold in several countries for several weeks.

“From what we can tell, someone clearly had the criminal intent to contaminate with a foreign substance,” German agriculture minister Christian Schmidt told Bild newspaper last week.

In Brussels, the commission is trying to assess the scale of the problem. Discussions are being held with national experts, but no talks at a political level are planned for now.

"We stay in touch with national authorities. Our priority is to make sure that national authorities take their responsibility of informing consumers precisely on what is going on," said Itkonen.

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