Europe has been struck with one of the largest food contamination crisis in recent years that has seen millions of eggs taken off the shelves in affected countries including Germany, UK, France, Sweden, Switzerland and more. The health scare and a slew of allegations surrounding it have resulted into what is now being termed as the ‘Dutch Egg Scandal’.
After it was discovered that a sizeable amount of eggs exported to European countries from the Netherlands were contaminated with fipronil – a harmul insecticide – retailers have started to pull the products out of their shelves.
The insecticide is used primarily against fleas and ticks in canines and also for removing red lice from poultry. However, application on animals meant for human consumption has been banned by the European Union. The spread of contamination was identified first at the source in the Netherlands, one of the largest exporters of eggs and the second largest agricultural product exporter after the Unites States of America.
The World Health Organisation classifies fipronil as moderately toxic which is potentially dangerous for the kidneys, liver and thyroid glands if the consumption is in large amounts or over a sustained period. Other potential conditions include nausea, abdominal pain, epileptic seizures and light-headedness.
The Dutch food standards agency NOVA places eggs in batches identified with codes and the details of several batches have been released. According to the BBC, the list included a batch classified with the code 2-NL-4015502 described as one that can pose “an acute danger to public health”.
NOVA has ordered recall of eggs from 59 producers on basis on fipronil levels, which could be harmful for children. Dutch eggs have been taken off retail in Germany, Britain, Sweden, Belgium, Switzerland and France. The contaminated batches contained fipronil above the limit set by the EU which is 0.72 mg/kg for eggs.
Toxicologists and food standards associations of multiple countries in Europe have said that isolated consumption will not lead to health hazards. However, sustained consumption is a health risk.
The eggs’ contamination was discovered in the Netherlands at poultry farms. Around 180 farms producing eggs in millions have been shut for the time being by authorities till investigations are complete.
Criminal investigation has been initiated in the Netherlands and in Belgium, which has accused the former of failing to sound the alarm bells sooner. The investigation is focussed on two companies for now – Poultry Vision, a pest control company in Belgium and Dutch poultry farm cleaning company Chickfriend that allegedly purchased the treatment from Poultry Vision.
An AFP report cited a lawyer from Poultry Vision as saying the company had sold the treatment to Chickfriend but the companies are yet to make official public statements.
The scandal came to the limelight earlier this month after NOVA ordered the recall of eggs. A report in BBC said that Belgium received flak when it emerged that the country’s authorities knew about the contamination as early as June. But it notified the European Commission only by late July during fraud investigations.
Belgium’s Minister for Agriculture Denis Ducarme has put the blame on the Dutch for allegedly having the knowledge about the contamination since November last year. The NVWA has, however, denied the accusation.
The uncertainty over the start of the contamination and how long it has been in the food chain is what has caused the health scare in the EU and raised alarms.