Millions of eggs have been taken off European shelves since mid-July
Belgium's agriculture minister says Dutch authorities should have come forward sooner
Two people have been arrested in connection with the latest food scandal to hit Europe, Dutch prosecutors said.
On Thursday, Dutch police arrested two individuals they say could be accountable for allowing the insecticide Fipronil to be used inside Dutch poultry farms, causing millions of potentially contaminated eggs to be taken off European shelves.
A joint Dutch-Belgian task force conducted raids at eight poultry farms in the Netherlands, according to the Dutch prosecution service.
The investigation “focused on the Dutch company that allegedly used Fipronil, a Belgian supplier as well as a Dutch company that colluded with the Belgian supplier,” according to the prosecutor.
Prosecutors believe the toxic insecticide was used to control blood lice, a common pest found in hens living inside chicken coops. The suspects were arrested on suspicion of endangering public health, according to the Dutch authorities.
The investigation began in mid-July after Fipronil was found in quantities of Dutch exported eggs in many European countries.
The European Commission said it only learned about the contamination in late July after receiving an official notification from Belgium.
But on Wednesday, Belgian Agricultural Minister Denis Ducarme said that Dutch authorities knew about the contamination as far back as November, but hadn’t taken the proper measures to report the issue to EU trading states.
The UK Food Standards Agency said on Thursday that it believes more eggs have been contaminated than they previously thought, estimating that number at 700,000. The UKFSA also said that British egg eaters shouldn’t be too concerned, as that number represents less than 0.01% of the UK’s entire egg consumption for a year, but have instructed a number of stores to remove any potential contaminated egg products – including popular prepackaged meals – from their shelves.
Human consumption of Fipronil can cause adverse short-term affects to the central nervous system, according to the World Health Organization. Its use is strictly regulated under European law.
The Netherlands is the leading exporter of eggs to the EU, according to data released by Eurostat.
Across the 28-country bloc, food and health authorities have taken steps to stop the contamination.
The German supermarket giant Aldi was the first major supermarket to pull all its eggs from shelves in July.
‘I’m confident that acting quickly is the right thing to do,” Heather Hancock, chairman of the UK Food Standard Agency, said Thursday. “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. … However, Fipronil is not legally allowed for use near food-producing animals and it shouldn’t be there.”
Although stringent food regulations are implemented under European law, it’s not the first time that the EU has experienced this kind of food scare.
Last month, Spanish police arrested and charged 65 people over the 2013 horse meat scandal, which came to light after the Food Safety Authority of Ireland found that 10 out of 27 hamburger products it analyzed in a study contained horse DNA.