Belgium accuses Dutch of tainted eggs cover-up
BRUSSELS — Belgium has accused the Netherlands of failing to inform it that eggs were tainted with insecticide despite knowing about the problem since November, as Europe’s latest food safety scandal deepened.
Newly appointed Agriculture Minister Denis Ducarme told a parliamentary hearing on Wednesday that Belgian’s food safety agency obtained an internal Dutch document that “reports the observation of the presence of fipronil in Dutch eggs at the end of 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 Ducarme, adding he has demanded an explanation from his Dutch colleagues.
The Dutch food and goods watchdog NVWA rejected the claim.
“The allegations that we knew about fipronil in eggs in November 2016 are untrue,” NVWA Inspector-General Rob van Lint said in a statement.
However, he admitted his body received an “anonymous tip-off ” in November that fipronil had indeed been used to clean chicken pens in order to combat red lice.
French Agriculture Minister Stephane Travert said he wanted “much more fruitful and rapid exchanges of information” with his European Union partners over the scandal.
His ministry announced at the same time an investigation into the French egg industry to check for fipronil.
The European Commission, which oversees the 28-nation EU’s food safety alert system, refused to comment on if and when it was told about the reported Dutch finding.
The allegations that we knew about fipronil in eggs in November 2016 are untrue.” NVWA, the Dutch food and goods watchdog
The Belgian hearing was called in response to an admission by officials at the weekend that they too knew about fipronil in eggs back in June, but kept it secret for nearly two months because of a parallel criminal fraud investigation.
Widespread in Europe
The insecticide scandal only became public on Aug 1 when authorities in the Netherlands ordered eggs pulled from supermarket shelves and urged shoppers to throw any they had away.
Contaminated eggs have since been discovered in Germany, Belgium, Sweden, Switzerland, Britain and France, with several supermarkets pulling millions of eggs off the shelves.
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 OrganiZation to be “moderately hazardous” and can have dangerous effects on people’s kidneys, liver and thyroid glands.