Contaminated eggs: Arrests made as scandal spreads East

Discount supermarket chain Aldi had withdrawn suspect batches sold in Luxembourg but contaminated eggs were sold on the Luxembourg market. [James Royal-Lawson/Flickr]

Luxembourg, Denmark, Slovakia and Romania became the latest European countries hit by a scare over tainted eggs, with supermarket chains pulling them from the shelves and other firms affected, authorities said on Thursday (10 August).

The tiny duchy of Luxembourg became the eighth EU state to be affected after eggs contaminated with the chemical fipronil were found in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, Britain and France.

Luxembourg said it had informed the European Commission, which runs the bloc’s food safety alert system.

Discount supermarket chain Aldi had withdrawn suspect batches sold in Luxembourg but “contaminated eggs were sold on the Luxembourg market”, the government announced.

One batch contained so much fipronil it was unsafe to be eaten by young children, said the government statement. The batch posed no threat to consumers, it added.

Belgium lashes out at the Netherlands, says it knew about eggs scandal

Belgium accused the Netherlands on Wednesday (9 August) of failing to inform it that eggs were tainted with insecticide despite knowing about the problem since last November, as Europe’s latest food safety scandal deepened.

Aldi earlier this month pulled all Dutch eggs from its stores in Germany.

Tests meanwhile found “small quantities” of fipronil in eggs sold in Luxembourg supermarket chain Cactus, which had originally come from the Netherlands, the government said.

Two Luxembourg suppliers of prepared meals, Caterman and Carnesa, also reported having received cartons of liquid eggs from a contaminated source in Belgium.

Some of those eggs had been used in minced beef and luncheon meat but the items had been removed, they said.

“There are therefore no more products on the market,” a government spokesman said.

Spreading East

Danish food authorities on Thursday said 20 tonnes of boiled and peeled eggs, imported from a Belgian supplier, had been found to contain traces of fipronil.

The eggs were mostly sold to cafes and caterers, Danish authorities said, stressing that the level of the insecticide in the eggs was too low to pose a health risk to humans.

The scandal also spread eastward as Romania and Slovakia reported their first findings of tainted eggs. Romanian authorities said one tonne of contaminated egg yolks had been found in a warehouse, imported via Germany. 21 boxes of tainted eggs were found in Slovakia.

Fipronil is commonly used in veterinary products to get rid of fleas, lice and ticks but it is  banned by the EU from being used to treat animals destined for human consumption, such as chickens.

In large quantities, the insecticide is considered by the World Health Organisation to be “moderately hazardous” and can have dangerous effects on people’s kidneys, liver and thyroid glands.

Belgium aware of eggs scandal since June but did not speak out

Belgium has been aware of a potential problem with fipronil in the poultry sector since June, its food safety agency admitted, adding that it did not say anything because of a fraud investigation.

Arrests made

In joint raids with Belgium, Dutch prosecutors said they had arrested “two managers at the company that allegedly used the substance at poultry farms”, with Dutch media naming the suspects’ firm as Chickfriend.

Farmers in the Netherlands – one of Europe’s biggest egg exporters – and Belgium have previously identified Chickfriend as the company that they hired to treat their chickens to eradicate the parasite red lice.

Dutch admit they knew

Belgium on Wednesday lashed out at the Netherlands for covering up the scandal, which it says Amsterdam knew about as early as November 2016.

“When a country like the Netherlands, one of the world’s biggest exporters of eggs, does not pass on this kind of information, that is a real problem,” said Belgian Agriculture Minister Denis Ducarme, adding he has demanded an explanation from his Dutch colleagues.

The inspector general of the Dutch food watchdog Rob van Lint admitted his body received an “anonymous tip-off” in November 2016 that fipronil had indeed been used to clean chicken pens in order to combat red lice.

“At that time there was no indication of an acute danger to food safety. There was not a single indication that fipronil could also be present in eggs,” van Lint said.