In what it described as a “coordinated action” between Dutch and Belgian investigation services, intelligence and investigation officers from the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) launched raids on a total of eight locations across the country yesterday. In Belgium, “multiple addresses” were searched.
The suspects were taken in as part of the criminal investigation by the Public Prosecutor’s office (OM) into how fipronil came to be found in Dutch and Belgian eggs. While the authorities in Belgium said fipronil levels were below agreed EU limits, some Dutch eggs were found to contain fipronil levels so high that they were described as an “acute danger to public health”, sparking a massive recall.
The suspects were said to be “directors of the company” that “presumably” used the drug in a cleaning treatment targeting lice and ticks. This cleaning treatment was then sold to poultry farmers in the Netherlands and Denmark, NVWA revealed.
The agency did not name the company involved but local reports suggest it is pest control group ChickFriend. Dutch farming group LTO Nederland, which represents poultry producers in the Netherlands, is also considering legal action against ChickFriend. "LTO is coordinating the legal steps towards ChickFriend, the supposed source of fipronil," LTO president Marc Calon said.
An unnamed Belgian supplier is also being investigated.
The Dutch and Belgian companies are suspected of “threatening public health by the delivery or use of the drug fipronil in stables with laying hens. In addition, they are suspected of having banned biocidal products”, NVWA stated.
Fipronil, an insecticide, is a substance banned from use for animals destined to enter the human food chain. The World Health Organization rates fipronil as “moderately toxic”. When consumed in large quantities it can cause kidney, liver or thyroid damage.
Recall spreads to 15 EU markets
The European Commission confirmed that fipronil-tainted eggs have now been recalled in 15 European markets as well as Switzerland and Hong Kong.
Farms in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and France have been shut down after authorities confirmed that fipronil had been used to treat laying hens. Recalls of Dutch eggs that reached the market before the fipronil contamination was detected have been initiated.
The other EU countries that received affected eggs from the Netherlands are the UK, Sweden, Austria, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia and Denmark.
A spokesperson for the EC told FoodNavigator that the Commission is “fully committed” to dealing with the current situation and “expects everyone to continue to play their role to the full extent of their responsibilities”.
“The situation is still evolving by the day, the priority remains to bring everything under control and reassure our citizens,” the spokesperson added.
The EC has also “informed our partners across the world about the state of play and measures in the EU concerning the illegal use of fipronil on some poultry farms”.
The Commission has scheduled a “high-level” meeting for 26 September to review and draw “relevant lessons” from the scandal.
“This should happen with some distance to the ongoing events, and as soon as we have all the facts available. This is work in progress, we will share the relevant details with you as soon as they become available,” the spokesperson concluded.