Poisoned Egg on their Faces

Have you heard? There’s a new European food-poisoning scandal raging – “European,” well, affecting at least those countries that buy their eggs from Netherlands producers, so at least the Netherlands itself*, Belgium and probably at least Luxembourg and Germany as well.

The keyword this time is fipronil, an insecticide that is not supposed to be allowed anywhere near poultry, but of course was. More specifically, a particular Dutch company out of Barneveld, the center of the Dutch poultry industry, by the name of Chickfriend (that’s no joke, see this report on the guilty parties from the NRC newspaper) indirectly bought 3,000 liters of an insecticide containing fipronil from Romania, then sold it on to its chicken-raising customers as a means of fighting that notorious chicken-pest, the blood-louse. It’s likely Chickfriend knew what it was doing; the invoices for the sales to the chicken-farmers give a name that hides the true poisonous nature of what is being sold. And now authorities are scrambling to track all the places this poison went, so that the eggs/chickens affected can be pulled from sale and/or destroyed.

But what caught my eye was the Belgians’ reaction:

The responsible agency throughout all of Belgium for product-safety is known as the FAVV, and the headline-news is that the FAVV was aware of the fipronil appearing in eggs from the Netherlands way back in June, even though public alarm over poisoned eggs first broke out only last week.

Why was that? Why no alarm back then? Now, of course the responsible federal Belgian minister Denis Ducarme (Minister of Agriculture, but only since last 26 July – Welcome to your new job, Minister Ducarme!**) has demanded a “detailed report,” which will be passed on to the Federal Parliament, where there will be hearings, etc. But the Het Laatste Nieuws article gives some preliminary indications. The concentration of fipronil that the FAVV initially detected in the Dutch eggs was under some EU-determined threshold for actually being supposed to worry about it, you see. But you still wonder, because the very next sentence seems to say that the FAVV was in no position to determine even that: “Then they requested that tests be done by a Dutch laboratory, since our country [Belgium, of course] has insufficient expertise to do that itself.”

Apparently Minister Ducarme finally went this morning to the FAVV offices to read them the riot act, and later he released an official list of “57 Suspected Firms,” i.e. which are suspected of being involved with the fipronil and whose products are therefore likely to be withdrawn from sale.

Further, no reports have emerged of anyone dying, or even becoming sick, from having ingested an egg poisoned with this fipronil. Surely that is just a matter of time. Meanwhile, the Dutch poultry industry has taken a big hit, several firms have already gone bankrupt (not just Chickfriend, which is of course under legal investigation) and the public health authorities in several EU lands have a mess to clean up when it comes to tracking down all the poisoned eggs.

*Point of detail: “[The] Netherlands” is a name in the singular, whether in English or Dutch (Nederland), just as “[The] United States” is, at least in English.
**Frankly, you’d hope Minister Ducarme had some unpleasant words for his predecessor as Minister of Agriculture, Willy Borsus, who was kicked upstairs to become Minister-President of Wallonia, a sub-state taking up around 40% of the entire country.

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