Criminal investigations launch after recall of millions of eggs in Europe

Some of us like our eggs scrambled. Others, sunny side up. Maybe you’re an eggs-over-easy type of person. Whatever the style, none of us want dangerous chemicals in our eggs.

Several European countries are trying to figure out what went wrong late last year that led to the discovery of a harmful insecticide called fipronil in eggs that were widely distributed to supermarkets.

The scandal, which has been known to the public since early August, is heating up now that claims have surfaced that Belgian authorities knew of the contamination since June, but did not share the information.

The Belgian minister claims that Dutch authorities were the ones who had information, and that Belgian authorities had delayed reporting fipronil after discovering it because levels found were so low, though higher levels have been detected since then. Meanwhile, the Netherlands detected higher fipronil content in eggs, to levels that it says could cause public health concerns. The European Union’s limit is 0.72 mg/kg in eggs.

A Dutch food safety watchdog admitted they had received an anonymous tip that fipronil had been used to remove lice from chicken pens in November 2016, but rejected the claim based on a lack of evidence.

Eggs and egg products have been pulled from supermarket shelves in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, while stores in Britain, France, Sweden and Switzerland have been put on high alert or have been initiating recalls of their own. Contaminated Dutch eggs were also found in Hong Kong this week.

Meanwhile, with suspicions of foul play mounting, several criminal investigations have been launched.

Two chicken production facilities, one in the Netherlands and the other in Belgium, are under criminal investigation for the contamination. Poultry facilities throughout the region are busily cleaning, culling and re-evaluating their biosecurity programs to prevent another incident.

No deaths or hospitalizations have been reported due to the contamination, but fipronil — which is banned from use near animals destined for the human food chain — can cause nausea, vomiting, headaches and dizziness when ingested.

NOVA, the Dutch food standards agency, has published a list (in Dutch) of egg batch codes which shouldn’t be eaten, noting that code 2-NL-4015502 is the most contaminated batch to look out for.

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