Fipronil egg contamination resurfaces as Germany recalls 73,000 Dutch eggs

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13 Jun 2018 --- Less than a year after the insecticide fipronil found its way into millions of eggs in the Netherlands and sparked a contamination scandal that rippled around Europe, six German states have been ordered to recall 73,000 eggs from sale. Initial reports from The Agriculture Ministry of Lower Saxony say that a large number of eggs due to be sold in Germany have been found to be contaminated with fipronil.

Fipronil is used to treat lice and ticks in chickens and some tests show that it can harm kidneys, the liver and thyroid gland in people.

The full scope and cause of the contamination remains unclear, but the contaminated eggs originate from the Netherlands, the source of the original fipronil outbreak in August 2017.

According to the Ministry “the substance fipronil was detected above the permitted maximum residue level,” and concerns eggs from an organic laying hen farm in the Netherlands sampled at a packing station in the Vechta district. 

The observed contents are 0.014; 0.019 and 0.007mg/kg fipronil. The maximum permitted level according to EU Regulation No. 396/2005 is 0.005mg/kg.

Due to the proven maximum exceedance, the eggs are not marketable and have been ordered to be withdrawn from the market. Dutch authorities have also been informed.

The Ministry stresses that on the basis of the assessment of the Federal Office for Risk Assessment (BfR), the values determined are far below those where there is a risk to health.

What happened last year?
In August, the Dutch food and product safety board (Nederlandse Voedsel- en Warenautoriteit, or NVWA) banned 180 poultry farms from sending their eggs to market over fears they may be contaminated with fipronil. At the time, the NVWA also warned consumers not to eat eggs with the code X-NL-40155XX, as these contained enough fipronil to present “an acute danger to public health.”

Click to EnlargeThe NVWA shut down seven poultry farms after fipronil was found in samples of eggs and the scare over fipronil and how it got into batches of eggs widened.

It impacted countries like Belgium and France and retail discounter Aldi removed its eggs from the shelves of German supermarkets amid safety concerns.

UK government agencies issued a warning that a small number of contaminated eggs had got into Britain’s food chain and had already been consumed. They were imported into the UK between March and June 2017, according to the Food Standards Agency (FSA) which carried out an official investigation. 

The Dutch poultry industry was hit hard by last year's fipronil crisis and the scandal rocked the food industry and consumer confidence in the Netherlands and Germany as well as the UK.

At the end of last year, the British Egg Industry Council (BEIC) said that the EU egg shortage following the fipronil crisis highlighted how many factors had been contributing to an EU-wide shortage of eggs for processing. 

Avian Influenza issues in Italy added to the pressures on the availability of eggs for processing within the EU.

The crisis initially led to a price surge as the market was in fear of an egg shortage. However, there was adequate supply as imports of eggs and egg products from the US filled the shortfall, according to data from the US Department of Agriculture. 

At the time, the BEIC anticipated the shortage would continue beyond the first quarter of 2018. However, the UK flock increased to meet the demand for British eggs and egg products and in December 2017 was the largest it had been for several years.

UK processors call for imported egg testing
Now, the BEIC has issued an up-to-date statement with regards to the resurfacing of fipronil and is calling on the UK Food Standards Agency to launch a program of random testing of eggs and egg products arriving in Britain.

“Unfortunately, we are not surprised by these developments as we have been concerned for some time that the initial issues following the product recalls we saw last year had not been thoroughly resolved,” says Andrew Joret, Chairman, British Egg Industry Council.

“With the extent of the issue unclear, we are asking the Food Standards Agency to take decisive action to protect UK food businesses, and are calling for random testing of all imported eggs and egg products.”

“Food businesses should protect themselves by specifying British Lion eggs and egg products, which are produced to the highest standards of food safety, and reassure their customers by using the British Lion mark on pack.”

FoodIngredientsFirst asked the UK Food Standards Agency for more information and was given the following statement. “At present, we do not have any evidence to suggest that affected eggs have been distributed to the UK. We are monitoring the situation closely and are in touch with the relevant authorities in Germany,” a spokesperson says. 

Germany’s Agriculture Ministry says the official investigations are ongoing and further results are expected soon.

By Gaynor Selby

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