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Toxic Dutch eggs cause scare in Germany

August 3, 2017

Two supermarket chains in Germany have decided to halt the sale of eggs from the Netherlands amid fears they may have been contaminated with insecticide. Dutch farmers say the move is nothing more than "fearmongering."

Rows of white eggs
Image: Getty Images/AFP/V. Jannink

The European Union sought to reassure consumers on Thursday that there was no danger of eggs tainted with the insecticide fipronil entering the market.

"The eggs are blocked. The contaminated eggs have been traced and withdrawn from the market and the situation is under control," a European Commission spokeswoman said.

Nevertheless, a number of German supermarkets have taken precautions. Grocery chain Rewe and its discount subsidiary, Penny, announced they would remove all Dutch eggs from the shelves, regardless of whether they were affected or not. "The Rewe Group will not sell eggs from the Netherlands until they are proven to be free of fipronil," the company said in a statement. 

Supermarkets Lidl and Aldi also said Thursday that they had immediately stopped selling eggs from any farms where fipronil was found to be used.

'Eggs-aggerated' measures?

Dozens of poultry farms in the Netherlands were shut down earlier in the week after fipronil was discovered in eggs destined for supermarkets. Since then, millions of suspect eggs have been recalled, while authorities in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany - where some of the eggs were sent - have been scrambling to assess the damage.

A lab assistant in a white coat carries out tests
A lab assistant with the Dutch food and product safety board tests eggs for traces of fipronilImage: Getty Images/AFP/P. van de Wouw

The association of Dutch poultry farmers criticized the measures, including the ban enforced by Rewe Group, as exaggerated.

"This is fearmongering, because you know there are no risks," Eric Hubers, the association's chairman, said Thursday on Dutch radio. "All Dutch eggs that are reaching markets now are guaranteed free of fipronil."

The scandal is expected to hit Dutch poultry farmers hard, given that 60 to 70 percent of Dutch eggs are exported to countries like Germany, which in 2016 received about 5 billion eggs from the Netherlands.

Eggs showing the production code NL
Authorities have warned consumers to avoid eggs marked with 'NL'Image: Imago/Hollandse Hoogte

Harmful in high doses

Over the weekend it was reported that contaminated eggs had been confirmed at 28 packing centers in the Netherlands, as well as at one center over the border in the western German state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Since then, 10 other German states have issued warnings about the eggs, advising customers to steer clear of products marked "NL."

Dutch poultry plants affected by the contamination had reportedly used an anti-lice agent that had fipronil as an additive, even though the insecticide is banned from being used on animals bound for human consumption.

According to the World Health Organization, the highly toxic substance can cause damage to the liver, thyroid glands and kidneys if ingested in large amounts. 

nm/kms (AFP, AP, dpa)