Dutch officials have released a list with ID codes for eggs to help consumers identify those contaminated with fipronil. Millions of insecticide-tainted eggs have made it onto the German market this summer.
Dutch food-safety officials announced Sunday that they had released a list of 170 codes for eggs contaminated with an insecticide, but were withholding the names of egg producers.
An official with the Dutch regulator told the German press agency that the list did not mean that 170 producers had been closed, as they often had multiple coops with different ID codes.
"Our list is very dynamic and is constantly changing," the official told DPA. "The numbers of companies alone do not have that much meaning, but would simply create more confusion"
He said consumers could check the codes to find out if they had eggs contaminated with fipronil, a toxic ingredient used in veterinary products for getting rid of fleas, ticks and lice on animals. It is, however, banned for use with food-producing animals.
"We are not expecting to find many more incidents in coming days," the spokesman said.
On Saturday, a spokeswoman for Belgium's food safety agency (AFSCA) said officials had known about the problem for two months but had kept it secret because they did not want to jeopardize a fraud investigation.
"We knew since early June there was potentially a problem with fipronil in the poultry sector," the spokeswoman, Katrien Stragier, told reporters.
"We immediately launched an investigation and we also informed the prosecutor because it was a matter of possible fraud."
Belgian authorities only reported the first cases of fipronil several weeks later, on July 20, according to the European Commission. On July 22, the substance was also detected in farms in the Netherlands. And just days later, it was announced that tainted eggs had also likely made it into Germany.
The three countries have since recalled millions of eggs, with their respective food safety authorities scrambling to assess the scale of the problem. At least 10 million contaminated eggs, mainly from the Netherlands but also from Belgium, were sent across the border to Germany, where they were transported to just about every state.
Fipronil is designed to combat insects such as fleas, mites and ticks, but it is not allowed to be used on animals destined for human consumption. According to the World Health Organization, the toxic substance can damage the liver, kidneys and thyroid gland if ingested in large doses, but experts say it poses no major health risks in small amounts.
AFSCA spokeswoman Stragier defended the decision not to inform other European countries immediately, saying it was necessary to establish the severity of the situation first.
Food authorities sent out warnings for customers to stay away from eggs marked with an 'NL' production code
German Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt has called on authorities, particularly in Belgium and the Netherlands, to clear up the problem. "Someone has clearly proceeded with criminal intent to contaminate (the eggs) with a banned product," he told the German mass-market daily Bild.
In the Netherlands, some 180 poultry farms were closed after traces of fipronil were found there. Dutch food authorities said they had found at least one batch of eggs that posed "an acute danger to public health." Eggs from another 59 Dutch farms contained high enough levels of the insecticide to prompt health warnings for children.
A number of German grocery chains responded by removing eggs from potentially contaminated batches. Rewe Group said it would not sell any eggs from the Netherlands until tests showed it was safe to do so. Aldi, meanwhile, pulled all eggs from its shelves, regardless of their origin. Germany has also started to recall products containing processed eggs.
bik, nm/tj (AFP, dpa)