Earlier reports of the number of eggs contaminated with banned insecticide Fipronil have now been replaced by larger projections.
The initial estimate of 21,000 eggs has now increased to around 700,000 in the UK alone.
Egg contamination scandal
If you have a food job, you must have heard about the egg scandal which has recently rocked the industry.
Fipronil was found to be used in poultry farms in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, despite the fact that it is banned for use around food producing animals. The contamination was first made public when Aldi pulled eggs off the shelves of their supermarkets in Germany in reaction to the use.
The Food Standards Agency now estimates that around 700,000 eggs were imported into the UK which were at risk of contamination, but says that it is unlikely that they would pose a health risk for consumers. Fipronil can only cause harm to humans if it is ingested in much larger quantities than you would see from the contaminated eggs. While it is not harmful in this example, it is of serious concern that such a large-scale contamination of a banned substance could be allowed to take place.
“The decision to withdraw these products is not due to food safety concerns, but is based on the fact that Fipronil is not authorised for use in food producing animals”, said a statement from the FSA.
The contamination has now been traced to a cleaning product which is in use in Dutch farms. This is a timely reminder that all materials used in the production of foodstuffs – not just the obvious ones – need to be thoroughly vetted.
The fallout continues
Two executives who worked for the Dutch company Chickfriend have now been arrested in raids, according to reports being published in Belgium and the Netherlands.
Meanwhile, countries across Europe have reacted strongly to the scandal. In particular, Belgium is now being criticised for not acting quickly enough to trigger the alert system which is in place across the EU for exactly this kind of situation. Belgium has been quick to point the finger in turn, at the Dutch authorities who did not inform them about the contamination sooner.
Anyone who knows a little about the history of European food health and safety scandals will recall that Belgium is already known for a lack of care with contamination. In 1999, a whole government was brought down over the use of animal feed which contained carcinogenic substances, which were then passed on to humans who ate their meat.
“I’m confident that acting quickly is the right thing to do. The number of eggs involved is small in proportion to the number of eggs we eat, and it is very unlikely that there is a risk to public health,” said Heather Hancock, chairman of the FSA. “Based on the available evidence there is no need for people to change the way they consume or cook eggs. However, Fipronil is not legally allowed for use near food-producing animals and it shouldn’t be there.”
No doubt this scandal will continue to play out in the days and weeks to come, but one thing is for sure: like the horsemeat scandal which rocked the UK, it will cause consumers to be a little more cautious about what they buy in future.
We tend to blindly accept what goes into our food, though incidents like these demonstrate why we should perhaps be better educated. Knowing what should and should not be done, and being able to have enough transparency that we know what is being done, is increasingly important to the modern consumer.