Belgium officials ‘knew of’ potentially contaminated eggs
Food safety officials in Belgium have added a twist to a scandal involving potentially contaminated eggs in the Belgian market by acknowledging that they knew about the issue.
“We knew since early June there was potentially a problem with [the insecticide] fipronil in the poultry sector,” Katrien Stragier, a spokeswoman for Belgium’s food safety agency, the AFSCA, told Flemish television VRT on Saturday.
“We immediately launched an investigation and we also informed the prosecutor because it was a matter of possible fraud,” she added.
Stragier suggested that investigations into the matter warranted a blackout on the information.
“From that point on, the secrecy of the inquiry took precedent. We understand that people have questions about public health and we are trying to answer them,” Stragier said.
AFP contacted the prosecutor in Antwerp handling the case but failed to get details on whether any specific orders had been issued by the investigating judge to conceal information about the contaminated eggs.
Meanwhile, supermarkets in Belgium have cleared eggs from the shelves as a precaution while awaiting the results of tests.
In Germany and the Netherlands, several million eggs from Dutch farms have already been recalled.
German Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt said on Thursday that the German government took the matter very seriously.
“Even if we assume that an acute health hazard is practically impossible, as per the current findings, the unlawful use of the insecticide fipronil in the farming of food-producing animals, such as in the case of egg-laying hens, is not acceptable and must cease immediately. This has to happen at all levels consequently and with the highest priority,” he said.
He urged the authorities, particularly in Belgium and the Netherlands, to clear up the situation.
“Someone has clearly proceeded with criminal intent to contaminate (the eggs) with a banned product,” Schmidt told the daily Bild.
Dutch officials closed down 180 businesses earlier in the week. And after tests, the Dutch food authority, the NVWA, said 138 poultry farms — about a fifth of all those in the country — would remain closed.
One batch of the eggs tested, in particular, posed “an acute danger to public health,” the agency said.
Eggs from another 59 farms contained high enough levels of the insecticide for the food authority to warn against any children eating them.
Fipronil is commonly used in veterinary products to get rid of fleas, lice, and ticks. It is banned from use to treat animals destined for human consumption, such as chickens.
In large quantities, the insecticide is considered to be “moderately hazardous,” according to the World Health Organization, and can have dangerous effects on humans’ kidneys, liver, and thyroid glands.
The egg scandal comes shortly after another food scandal shocked European consumers.
The European police agency, Europol, said 66 people had been arrested for trading horsemeat unfit for human consumption last month.
Europol said 65 people had been arrested in Spain, and the main suspect, a Dutch citizen, had been arrested in Belgium.
Europol said it had seized bank accounts, properties, and luxury cars belonging to the fraudsters.