EU calls egg crisis talks to end ‘blaming and shaming’
The EU said Friday it would call an emergency meeting of ministers over insecticide-tainted eggs in a bid to stop “blaming and shaming” over the scandal spreading across Europe.
Vytenis Andriukaitis, the European Commissioner for health and food safety, told AFP he wanted the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany to stop trading accusations about who is responsible for the scare, which involves fipronil, a chemical that can be harmful to humans.
France meanwhile said contaminated eggs were first sold there in April, nearly four months before the threat became public, as the crisis that has hit at least 11 European countries widened further.
“Blaming and shaming will bring us nowhere and I want to stop this,” Andriukaitis said. “We need to work together to draw the necessary lessons and move forward instead of losing energy on finger pointing.”
The Lithuanian commissioner said the EU had to deal with “first things first” including getting information, learning lessons on improving its food safety system and preventing “criminal activity.”
He added: “That is exactly what I have discussed with the German, Belgian and Dutch ministers this week. I proposed to hold a high-level meeting gathering the ministers concerned as well as the representatives of the food safety agencies in all member states involved as soon as we have all the facts available.”
Harmful to humans
Fipronil is commonly used to get rid of fleas, lice and ticks from animals but is banned by the European Union from use in the food industry. The World Health Organization (WHO) says that when eaten in large quantities it can harm people’s kidneys, liver and thyroid glands.
Millions of eggs and egg-based products have been pulled from European supermarket shelves since the scare went public on August 1 and there are growing questions about who knew what, and when.
A row has broken out between Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany — the three countries where the contaminated eggs were first discovered — about who is responsible.
The EU is seeking to quickly end the egg feud and maintain unity after a string of crises including Brexit, the migration influx and debt in the eurozone.
Belgium earlier this week accused the Netherlands of knowing about the fipronil eggs since November 2016 and failing to notify other countries, a charge the Dutch have denied.
However Belgium itself has been forced to admit that it knew about fipronil in eggs back in June but kept it secret for nearly two months because of a criminal investigation.
Dutch and Belgian investigators carried out coordinated raids on several premises on Thursday, arresting two people at a Dutch firm believed to be at the centre of the crisis.
Belgian Agriculture Minister Denis Ducarme said in a statement he was “very interested” in having a meeting of ministers from countries affected by the fipronil scandal.
‘Risk is very low’
Fresh discoveries of contaminated eggs have continued daily.
In France, French Agriculture Minister Stephane Travert said that since April the country had sold nearly 250,000 contaminated eggs, imported from Belgium and the Netherlands, but the risk for consumers was negligible.
“The risk for human health is very low, given the levels of fipronil detected in the contaminated eggs, but also given French habits of food consumption,” he said.
Denmark said on Thursday it had found a haul of 20 tonnes of tainted eggs, imported from Belgium.
The scandal also hit eastern Europe for the first time as a tonne of contaminated egg yolk was found in Romania, and 21 boxes of the tainted eggs were discovered in Slovakia.
It also reached Luxembourg, while Britain said it had imported 700,000 eggs from Dutch farms linked to the scandal — far more than the 21,000 first thought.
The food scare is one of the biggest to hit Europe since the 2013 horsemeat scandal when equine meat was falsely labelled and sold as other kinds of meat.