German agriculture minister: Eggs scandal is a ‘criminal’ case

According to the farm lobby group LTO Nederland the affected farms produce both eggs and chicken meat. [Ian Britton/Flickr]

Germany’s agriculture minister said on Tuesday (8 August) that the contamination of millions of eggs with a potentially harmful insecticide was “criminal”, as authorities in several European countries continued to investigate the food safety scare.

Retailers in several European countries have pulled millions of eggs from supermarket shelves as the scare over the use of the insecticide fipronil widened. Millions of hens may need to be culled in the Netherlands.

Fipronil is a popular insecticide to treat pets for fleas and ticks but it is forbidden for use in the food chain because it may cause organ damage in humans if large quantities are ingested.

“It is criminal, that is very clear,” Christian Schmidt told German television station ARD on Tuesday, without giving further details.

Dutch and Belgian authorities have pinned the source of the insecticide to a supplier of cleaning products in the Netherlands.

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.

The European Commission said it had first learned about the contamination in late July when it received an official notification from Belgium but had not yet established whether the country had broken any rules by not notifying sooner.

The Belgian food safety regulator has drawn criticism both at home and from abroad after it said it was made aware of a first case of fipronil contamination in early June.

The regulator, which had repeatedly stated that none of the eggs tested had levels of fipronil above those considered safe in the EU, said on Tuesday that a second test on a batch of Belgian eggs had shown levels in excess of those limits.

As those eggs came from a producer that has been barred from the market since 18 July, the contaminated eggs had already been withdrawn from the supply chain, the regulator added.

Germany’s Schmidt said there should not now be any contaminated eggs left on store shelves in Germany.

Batches of possibly contaminated eggs from the Netherlands and Germany had also been shipped to Sweden, Switzerland, France and Britain, EU filings showed last weekend.

Contaminated eggs from the Netherlands and Belgium have also been found at five food production sites in France, the country’s agriculture ministry said on Tuesday, and all products still present at the factories are barred from sale.

Authorities are working to “identify the destination of products already shipped that are likely to be contaminated”, the ministry said in a statement.

Dutch and Germans 'massively' get rid of contaminated eggs

Supermarkets in the Netherlands and Germany massively withdrew batches of eggs from their shelves on Thursday (3 August) amid fears that they contained high quantities of fipronil, a toxic insecticide which is dangerous for humans.

Focus on chickens 

In the meantime, Dutch media report that the food safety agency of the country is focusing now on chickens earmarked for meat to see whether they have been also contaminated with fipronil.

According to the farm lobby group LTO Nederland the affected farms produce both eggs and chicken meat.

‘Chickfriend has only used its products in the barns where the layer hens are kept,’ spokesman Eric Hubers told AD journal.

Davin Hutchins, senior campaigner with Greenpeace’s Food campaign, said, “The wide prevalence of the toxic insecticide fipronil in European eggs shows again how secretive industrial meat, dairy and egg production has become. This lack of transparency is designed by the industry and supported by our governments. Consumers cannot trust industrial farms to ensure animal products are free of substances that will harm the public. Massive retail recalls are too little, too late. All of this points to a deep disease in the industrial meat and dairy system.”

“Factory farming has been at the center of a number of scandals, from Mad cow to bird flu, from swine flu to horsemeat. These are symptoms of a system trying to cut costs at every corner to maximize profits at the expense of public health and the environment. Politicians and retailers must step up and serve the public instead of cowing to industrial meat and dairy giants. We need a fundamental shift in our food system where policies promote less production and consumption of animal products and incentives for plant-rich alternatives. It's time to radically reform our food system to be safer, healthier and more transparent,” he added.

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