18 August 2018 | Online since 2003

13 June 2018

More fipronil cases found in Dutch eggs

More fipronil contamination has been found in Dutch eggs nearly a year after the original scandal. And the news has caused British Lion Egg Processors to call for the Food Standards Agency to launch a programme of random testing of eggs and egg products arriving in the UK.

Millions of hens were culled and millions of eggs and food products were destroyed after the original discovery last year that the banned chemical had been used in a red mite treatment on layers in Europe. European Union investigators subsequently found contaminated eggs or chicken in eight different European Union countries.

Now, more contamination has been found. Dutch authorities confirmed to the Ranger that two new cases had been confirmed and a third was under investigation. Some 73,000 Dutch eggs have been withdrawn from sale in Germany.

The latest cases began on a farm at Tilligte, which is close to the German border. The whole 3,000-bird free range layer flock was culled as a result of the discovery.

"A poultry farmer from Tilligte had sold his eggs to a supermarket chain that had sampled these in their regular quality check. The supermarket’s laboratory found an elevated level of fipronil in the eggs and notified the poultry farmer, who decided to cull his 3,000 chickens and recalled 45,000 eggs for destruction," said Rob Hageman, of the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA).

The affected farmer was named in the Dutch press as Jos Kienhuis, who reportedly told RTV Oost that he believed his fields had been contaminated by residues of the chemical from last year’s fipronil scandal. His was one of 281 egg farms shut down during the original crisis last year.

"It was the second time this poultry farmer had to go through this," said Rob Hageman. "In August of 2017, at the height of the 2017 fipronil eggs contamination episode, his farm was also blocked and he had to cull 3,000 chickens and destroy 10,000 eggs.

"It is still unknown where the contamination came from. One plausible scenario is that the free range farmer rinsed his barn after the first culling and flushed the water onto the free range field," he said.

"We don’t expect this contamination to be a result of the use of fipronil as a remedy to destroy the poultry mite. The Dutch poultry sector is very much aware that this use is forbidden," said Rob Hageman.

He subsequently confirmed that another case had been found on a farm at Putten. And he said a third farm was under investigation. "More recently a third farm has been identified through sampling in Germany, that has not yet been made public, awaiting secondary testing results," he said.

"All are free range farms, which supports the supposition that recontamination through soil of free range fields is the cause. Fipronil is excreted through urine manure and feathers, so all litter that landed on the field may be contaminated and may have contaminated the soil.

"Another cause could be that barns were rinsed out onto a field. Fipronil is only neutralised with lye and hydrogen peroxide. Farmers have been advised to take samples to determine contamination of the soil during the height of the crisis in 2017," he said.

"So why now, and not sooner, you might wonder. We believe this re-contamination started since the poultry is no longer cooped-up because of the bird flu. The obligation to coop up was lifted mid-April for the whole of the Netherlands. And two weeks earlier in the east of the Netherlands.

"Two out of the three farms were from the east of the Netherlands. We do not rule out that more recontaminations will popping–up in the coming weeks," he said.

Andrew Joret, chairman of the British Egg Industry Council, expressed concern. He said, “Unfortunately, we are not surprised by these developments as we have been concerned for some time that the initial issues following the product recalls we saw last year have not been thoroughly resolved.

“With the extent of the issue unclear, we are asking the Food Standards Agency to take decisive action to protect UK food businesses, and are calling for random testing of all imported eggs and egg products. Food businesses should protect themselves by specifying British Lion eggs and egg products, which are produced to the highest standards of food safety, and reassure their customers by using the British Lion mark on pack,” he said.

Egg producers in the Netherlands initially faced the threat of multiple legal actions by retailers last year following the contamination. Dutch farmers were warned by lawyers acting for supermarkets and food companies that they would be seeking not only the cost of eggs and products recalled as a result of the crisis, but also damages for loss of profits. Eric Hubers, chairman of the country's egg industry association, Ovoned, said farmers would be put out of business if the legal action went ahead. However, the retailers subsequently backed away from pursuing compensation claims.

The fipronil crisis has still been a costly experience for the Dutch egg industry. The NVWA says that 205 barns on 115 farms are still partially 'blocked' following shutdowns. "Of the partially blocked barns 86 barns on 48 farms are blocked because of high fipronil levels in manure," said Rob Hageman. "Meanwhile 566 barns on 234 farms have been de-blocked. In total too high levels were found in 795 barns on 359 poultry farms in the Netherlands during the fipronil episode."

The European Commission asked the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to investigate the extent of the problem and EFSA recently produced a report following completion of its inquiries. EFSA was asked by the Commission to look for evidence of fipronil and other similar substance. It found residues above legal limits in eight different countries. The positive samples were found in the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Poland, Hungary, France, Slovenia, and Greece. "Exceedances were almost exclusively related to fipronil," said EFSA in its report.

EFSA said that a total of 5,439 samples were submitted to it from the sampling period between September 1, 2017 and November 30, 2017. Among these samples, 742 samples contained residues exceeding the legal limit. "MRL (maximum residue level) exceedances were almost exclusively related to fipronil and were associated with unprocessed chicken eggs (601 samples), fat of laying hens (134 samples), muscle of laying hens (5 samples) as well as dried egg powder (2 samples)," said the report.

"Samples that exceeded the legal limit originated from the Netherlands (664 samples), Italy (40 samples), Germany (13 samples), Poland (11 samples), Hungary (6 samples), France (5 samples), Slovenia (2 samples) and Greece (1 sample)," it said.

"Among the 66 substances that were recommended to be analysed in the framework of the ad-hoc monitoring programme, the only substances found in quantifiable concentrations were fipronil (915 determinations) and amitraz (2 determinations)."

EFSA has recommended that in future fipronil and other similar chemicals should be included in the monitoring activities of member states.

In the United Kingdom some food products were removed from shelves in some supermarkets last year, but all of them included eggs imported from other countries. Investigations on British farms found no trace of the banned chemical.

Although UK production was given the all-clear, the British Egg Industry Council (BEIC) said it would introduce an approved list of pesticides detailing which ones could be used on farms.


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