Dutch knew about contaminated eggs last year, Belgium claims

Broken eggs are pictured on a production line at a poultry farm in Wortel near Antwerp, Belgium August 8, 2017.Image copyright

Image caption

Broken eggs at a production line in Belgium – where many have been shut down

Belgium has accused the Netherlands of knowing about a potentially dangerous egg contamination since last year.

Belgian officials had already admitted to knowing, in June, that Dutch eggs might contain a harmful insecticide.

The information was not made public until a month later, a move widely criticised across Europe.

But Belgian Agriculture Minister Denis Ducarme said a document now showed its neighbour knew about the problem as far back as November 2016.

The chemical in question, fipronil, can harm people’s kidneys, liver and thyroid glands.

It is used to treat lice and ticks in animals, and as a general insecticide, but it is not approved for use in the food industry.

Mr Ducarme made the revelation about the Netherlands’ alleged long-term knowledge of the problem during a hearing on the crisis in the Belgian parliament.

He said that despite the reports of fipronil in eggs, Dutch authorities made “no official communication”, and he has asked for an explanation from officials.

Belgian and Dutch authorities are categorising the destruction and recall of eggs as a precautionary measure.

The Netherlands is Europe’s biggest egg producer – and one of the largest exporters of eggs and egg products in the world.

It exports an estimated 65% of the 10 billion eggs it produces every year.

Amid the contamination scandal, Dutch eggs have been pulled from supermarket shelves across Europe. Millions were sold in Germany, and possibly as far as France and the UK.

More than 100 poultry farms have been closed during the investigation.

When Belgium initially came under fire for not reporting its detection of the chemical in early June, a spokesperson said they had delayed reporting the contamination because the case had been referred to a prosecutor over a fraud investigation.

The cause of the contamination is not yet clear, but a number of reports have suggested fipronil may have been mixed with another insecticide to improve its effectiveness.

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