Dutch farm­ers ‘pow­er­less’ in the face of con­tam­i­nated eggs

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

EDE, Nether­lands:

In the dark and si­lent shed of a small Dutch poul­try farm, 1.8 mil­lion eggs closely packed to­gether wait to be de­stroyed. In the barn, the ma­chine that sorts and pack­ages the eggs has been shut off and its rolling belt is start­ing to gather dust. In the empty court­yard, the woman of the house and a worker per­form small jobs. But the fields are empty and the chick­ens are in­vis­i­ble.

Wim ten Ham’s farm in the cen­tral Dutch town of Ede-where dozens of poul­try farms are re­puted for their eggs-is one of hun­dreds of farms whose eggs are sus­pected of hav­ing been con­tam­i­nated by the in­sec­ti­cide fipronil.

Con­tam­i­na­tion with the toxic chem­i­cal has prompted su­per­mar­kets in Bel­gium, the Nether­lands and Ger­many to re­move mil­lions of eggs from their shelves, in­clud­ing the dis­count su­per­mar­ket gi­ant Aldi which an­nounced Fri­day it was pulling all Dutch eggs from stores in Ger­many. Au­thor­i­ties in Switzer­land and Swe­den also said they were track­ing ship­ments and re­mov­ing eggs, as the im­pact of the af­fair widened.

The Dutch food au­thor­ity (NVWA) also shut­tered 138 poul­try farms-about a fifth of those in the coun­try-and warned that eggs from an­other 59 farms con­tained high enough lev­els of fipronil that it warned they should not be eaten by chil­dren. Fipronil is com­monly used in vet­eri­nary prod­ucts to get rid of fleas, lice and ticks. But it is banned from be­ing used 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 peo­ple’s kid­neys, liver and thy­roid glands.

‘I feel pow­er­less’

“We are closed and will re­main closed un­til we are able to prove that fipronil has been elim­i­nated from our chick­ens and is no longer present in our eggs,” ten Ham said. When his farm’s eggs were tested, au­thor­i­ties found that they con­tained 0.30 mg/kg of the toxic in­sec­ti­cide when only a level of 0.005 mg/kg is al­lowed. To erad­i­cate fipronil from his farm, ten Ham has two choices: de­stroy all 68,000 of his chick­ens, which would cost 400,000 eu­ros ($471,000), or in­duce a moult and evac­u­ate the birds’ drop­pings.

Ac­cord­ing to mem­bers of the Dutch poul­try union, fipronil is lodged in the chick­ens’ ab­dom­i­nal fat and moult­ing can re­duce it, as the agri­cul­ture site Bo­erderij re­ported. Dur­ing the moult­ing, which gen­er­ally be­gins in au­tumn due to the de­crease in light, the bird sheds feath­ers and loses fat. Ten Ham has since plunged his nearly 70,000 chick­ens into dark­ness and put them on a mod­i­fied diet to make it easier for them to lose fat. Chick­ens can re­main con­tam­i­nated for be­tween six to eight weeks. “I feel pow­er­less,” ten Ham said, ad­ding that he un­der­stood rules needed to be up­held but lamented the strict reg­u­la­tions.

“It’s trade pro­tec­tion­ism,” he said. “It’s only to keep the econ­omy go­ing”. Bel­gian of­fi­cials ad­mit­ted Sat­ur­day they knew in early June there was a po­ten­tial prob­lem over eggs con­tam­i­nated with fipronil but kept it se­cret be­cause of an on­go­ing fraud in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Ger­man Agri­cul­ture Min­is­ter Chris­tian Sch­midt has pressed the au­thor­i­ties, par­tic­u­larly in Bel­gium and The Nether­lands, to clear up the sit­u­a­tion, which he said was done with “crim­i­nal in­tent”. It is be­lieved the toxic sub­stance was in­tro­duced to poul­try farms by a Dutch busi­ness named Chick­friend brought in to treat red lice, a nasty par­a­site in chick­ens. Dutch and Bel­gian me­dia re­ports that the sub­stance con­tain­ing the in­sec­ti­cide was sup­plied to Chick­friend by a Bel­gian firm have not been con­firmed. Bel­gium’s food safety agency (AFSCA) has said a crim­i­nal probe, in co­op­er­a­tion with pros­e­cu­tors, had been launched.

Talk about com­pen­sa­tion

With losses ex­pected to run into mil­lions of eu­ros, it is an­other blow for Dutch poul­try farm­ers af­ter 190,000 ducks were culled in Novem­ber amid a highly in­fec­tious strain of bird flu. Ten Ham has no choice but to wait un­til fipronil dis­ap­pears and his eggs are back to con­tain­ing ac­cept­able lev­els of the in­sec­ti­cide be­fore he can count up his losses. “Those who de­cide pay: they de­ter­mine the rules, they de­cide that these eggs are not good enough,” the farmer said. — AFP

NETHER­LANDS: Farm­ers dis­pose of eggs at a poul­try farm in Onst­wedde, Nether­lands. —AFP

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