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Toxic eggs: crisis deepens

AFTER A FEW days of trying to reassure the public that there is no risk to health, the authorities are having to wake up to the fact that the toxic egg crisis is out of control – with many questions needing honest answers.

The crisis came to light five days ago, when supermarket chain Aldi took Dutch eggs off the shelves in its supermarkets in Germany. They contained traces of fipronil – an insecticide used to rid chickens of tics and lice which is not supposed to be used on animals destined for human consumption. If eaten in sufficient quantity, it can affect the kidneys, liver and thyroid glands – a dangerous quantity being perhaps around two eggs a day in children, more in adults.

Now, at the end of week one of the crisis, here are the developments which have occurred in the last five days.

Contaminated eggs have now been found in 15 EU countries (including the UK), Switzerland and Hong Kong. After Aldi removed eggs from sale in Germany, they were also removed from sale by various outlets in Belgium and Holland. France’s Agricultural Minister has admitted that 250,000 affected eggs had been sold in the country since April. She also announced that contaminated eggs, and any products made using them, would now been withdrawn from sale. Hong Kong is testing imports and to date has only found two contaminated batches.

Originally 180 farms in Holland were closed while the cause of the contamination was investigated. During the weeks, some farms in Belgium, Germany and France have also been shut down.

The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) originally estimated that 21,000 contaminated eggs had been sent to the UK – but it quickly revised its estimate to 700,000 – a large number, but a small percentage of eggs consumed in the UK, 85% of which are produced in the UK.

During the week it was discovered that contaminated eggs had been used in the production of other foods. Sandwiches, salads and other products were taken off the shelves by various supermarkets, including Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Waitrose and Asda.

Food standards agencies and the police are co-operating in an investigation of the causes of the contamination, which they recognise may lead to criminal charges. Investigations are so far concentrating on a pest control firm called Poultry Vision which is thought to have sold cleansing products to Chickfriend, a company which specialises in cleaning farms. A joint raid conducted by Belgian officials and the Dutch police this week saw two people arrested.

Food safety bodies in Belgium and Holland knew about the contamination for some time, possibly months, before taking any effective action. It has been suggested that the Belgian authorities first identified the contamination as long ago as last November!

Products which FSA has confirmed are withdrawn from sale

products

ELN says
This crisis makes it very hard for the public to trust the regulators that are supposed to ensure our food is safe to eat. The authorities must now work very hard to regain our trust.

First, they must act to ensure all contaminated eggs, and products made from them, are removed from sale. It’s not good enough to say the risk is small – though that is true. If fipronil is banned from products destined for human consumption, we don’t want to consume it and we rely on regulators to ensure that we do not.

Second, and at the same time, there must be complete openness and transparency about the investigation into the causes of the contamination (except elements which may lead to a criminal prosecution, until after that prosecution). The public will not be satisfied by patronising comments that the authorities should be trusted – they will have to earn the public’s trust.

Third, we need an investigation, conducted in public, into how and why regulation failed. If our current regulators cannot protect us from banned products entering the food chain, we need new ones.

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