Dutch egg probe widens to testing chicken meat
THE HAGUE: In a new twist in Europe’s tainted egg scandal yesterday, Dutch authorities announced they had started testing chicken meat coming from affected poultry farms to determine whether it, too, was contaminated.
Scientists are looking for the presence of the insecticide fipronil, a substance potentially dangerous to humans, after supermarkets in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden and Switzerland pulled millions of eggs from the shelves.
“We are currently testing chicken meat in the poultry farms where eggs were infected to determine whether the meat is contaminated as well,” Tjitte Mastenbroek, spokesman for food security agency NVWA, told AFP. The probe focuses on “a few dozen” farms that produce both eggs and chicken meat, NVWA said. Millions of chickens now face being culled in the Netherlands as the scandal widens across Europe.
Hard-hit Germany yesterday called on Belgian and Dutch authorities to quickly shed light on what it termed a “criminal network” involved in the contamination of eggs with fipronil. “When one sees a criminal energy that’s almost organised as a network it’s unacceptable,” German Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt said. He again criticized Belgian and Dutch authorities’ tardy response to the crisis.
Belgium’s top agricultural official Monday ordered the country’s food safety agency to report within a day why it failed to notify neighboring countries until July 20 despite knowing about fipronil contamination since June. “It’s not in the spirit of the early warning system to be aware in June but only to inform us by the end of July,” Schmidt said.
Mastenbroek told AFP that a criminal probe by the NVWA under Dutch prosecution authorities and assisted by Belgium is continuing, looking at the role of companies in contaminating Dutch poultry farms with fipronil. Meanwhile, the French government said Monday “thirteen batches of contaminated eggs from The Netherlands” were delivered in July to food processing companies located in central-western France.
First egg, now chicken
Mastenbroek said so far her agency’s “highest priority” has been the detection of contaminated eggs. “But now we also have the time to look at meat as a precautionary measure,” she said. Most farms exclusively produce one or the other, said Eric Hubers at LTO, a Dutch farming organization. If the meat tests are negative for fipronil, producers will be cleared to resume sales, Mastenbroek said. LTO said the probability of chicken meat found to be infected was small. However, if fipronil was detected “farming will be completely suspended,” Mastenbroek said.
Poultry heartland hit
The contaminated egg scandal broke last week when up to 180 Dutch farms were shuttered due to the presence of fipronil discovered in some of the eggs. It is believed the toxic substance was introduced to poultry farms by a Dutch business named Chickfriend brought in to treat red lice, a parasite in chickens. Dutch and Belgian media reports that the substance containing the insecticide was supplied to Chickfriend a small company operating out of the Dutch poultry heartland in the central town of Barneveld - by a Belgian firm have not been confirmed.
Currently Dutch authorities have closed down 138 poultry farms - about a fifth of those across the country - and warned that eggs from another 59 farms contained enough levels of fipronil that they should not be eaten by children. Belgium has blocked production from 51 farms - a quarter of those nationwide - with fipronil found at 21 farms, although levels were ten times below the maximum EU limit, the country’s food and safety authority AFSCA said. Other European countries like Austria, Bulgaria, Poland, Portugal and Romania said they were analyzing imported eggs, but so far no contaminated eggs were found. — AFP