Investigators in the Netherlands and Belgium have arrested two company directors in connection with the fipronil contamination scandal that has significantly deepened this week as eggs all over Europe have been taken off shelves.
In coordinated raids involving Dutch and Belgian authorities, the Netherlands Food and Consumer Products Safety Authority (NVWA) intelligence and investigation service yesterday (August 10) held two suspects in the criminal investigation after searching a total of eight locations in the Netherlands.
Several locations in Belgium were also raided and searched as part of the investigation which took place with the support of Eurojust and Europol.
According to the authorities, the investigation focuses on the Dutch company which allegedly applied the fipronil and the alleged Belgian supplier as well as a company from the Netherlands that allegedly collaborated with the Belgian supplier.
“The company and the two drivers suspected of using the drug, the Dutch dealer, the Belgian supplier and its owner are suspected of threatening public health by the delivery or use of the drug fipronil in stables with laying hens,” says a statement.
“In addition, they are suspected of having banned biocidal products. The suspicion is that the fipronil has been used in stables with laying hens to fight blood lice. By doing so, chickens could be infected and eggs contained by those chickens also contain a certain amount of fipronil. The subject of research is the extent and period of application of the drug.”
The two detainees are believed to be from the municipalities of Barneveld and Zaltbommel and another house was searched where one of the suspects stayed.
Police say that in the municipality of Bergen op Zoom a house was also searched that could be associated with a Belgian supplier, while in the vicinity of Uden, the home of the Dutch trader was also searched.
A warehouse was also being searched in the municipality of Ede. In addition, two other locations in the Netherlands were searched at the request of the Belgian authorities.
As part of the criminal investigation, samples from poultry farms have also been taken as well as samples of equipment.
“Companies supplying products for the food chain are socially responsible for keeping the rules and regulations in place. The rules are there to ensure food safety. Fraud undermines confidence in food safety. The use of prohibited resources in the food chain can endanger food safety and it will lead to an uneven playing field and distortion of competition. Therefore, the government is opposed to this,” adds the statement.
Fipronil scandal ripples through Europe
This week the mainstream media around Europe picked up the story which has made headlines in the UK, Netherlands, Belgium, Scandinavia and more.
Evidence of fipronil contamination emerged when German discounter Aldi started pulling egg products from its shelves and fipronil was detected in Dutch, Belgian and French poultry farms.
Over the last week or so there have been recriminations between European countries. Belgium was accused of not reacting quickly enough to alert the appropriate EU authorities, while the country’s agricultural minister claimed Dutch authorities also did not act fast enough.
Meanwhile, the Netherlands Food and Consumer Products Safety Authority (NVWA) has issued a statement clarifying the timeline of what is has known about fipronil in eggs.
“The NVWA receives hundreds of tips and reports concerning suspected fraud on an annual basis. In November 2016 news from an anonymous source reached the NVWA that fipronil was being used illegally in cleaning poultry accommodations in an attempt to prevent poultry mite (Dermanyssus gallinae) infestation.”
“At the time there was no evidence that there were any acute food safety risks involved. There was also no evidence that eggs contained fipronil.”
“On 19 June 2017, the NVWA received specific information via informal channels originating in Belgium that fipronil had indeed been found in Belgian eggs.”
UK & Ireland
UK government agencies issued a warning that a small number of contaminated eggs have got into Britain’s food chain and have already been consumed.
After initially saying that only around 20,000 eggs were imported into Britain, now the Food Standards Agency has revised its figures.
“Investigations into the fipronil incident in Europe continue. We have now established that more eggs from affected farms than previously identified came to the UK. It is very unlikely that these eggs pose a risk to public health, but as fipronil is unauthorized for use in food-producing animals we have acted with urgency to ensure that consumers are protected,” says the latest statement.
The products affected are processed foods in which egg is one ingredient among many others, mostly used in sandwich fillings or other chilled foods.
While in some European countries eggs containing fipronil residues have been sold as fresh eggs, in the UK this is not the case. Many of the eggs involved were mixed with other eggs which have not come from affected farms so fipronil residues will be highly diluted.
“It is likely that the number of eggs that have come to the UK is closer to 700,000 than the 21,000 we previously believed had been imported. However, as this represents 0.007 percent of the eggs we consume in the UK every year, it remains the case that it is very unlikely that there is any risk to public health from consuming these foods,” adds the statement.
The decision to withdraw these products is not due to food safety concerns, adds the Agency but is because fipronil is not authorized for use in food producing animals.
“We are reminding food businesses of their legal responsibilities which include informing the FSA or FSS and relevant local authorities immediately if they have any reason to believe that a food which they have imported, produced, processed, or distributed does not comply with food safety requirements. This allows us to advise them on appropriate actions to take. We are grateful to the food businesses who have provided the information we have published on withdrawn products,” it adds.
Meanwhile, The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) says traceability on the eggs from the Netherlands contaminated with fipronil is continuing.
“The FSAI can confirm that in June, very small quantities of boiled eggs were supplied to nine catering outlets in Ireland. These eggs had a ‘use-by’ date of 17th July and are no longer available. Similarly, in early July, a small quantity of liquid pasteurized egg (with a ‘use-by’ date of 20th July) was supplied to a number of food businesses for use in bakery products,” says a statement.
“All of the food businesses concerned have been contacted and any remaining products removed from sale. The number of egg products imported is very small.”
“The risk to consumer health is very low. Nevertheless, the FSAI will continue to trace any distribution in Ireland. Further updates will be provided as necessary.”