Fipronil is an insecticide used to control fleas, cockroaches and ants but cannot be used for animals intended for the food chain.
The insecticide was found in Dutch and Belgian farms and 26 Member States and 23 other countries have been impacted by the contamination of eggs and egg products.
Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis stressed the incident was not a food safety problem but the result of criminal fraudulent activity.
“As far as we can tell from the available information, the public health risk was negligible and quickly contained. Indeed, after testing thousands of samples, only three presented levels involving a potential health risk,” he said at a meeting on the follow-up to the incident in Brussels.
“Nonetheless...it demonstrates that the criminal actions of a few can threaten the integrity and reputation of our entire food chain...”
Millions of chicken eggs were withdrawn and all farms where items containing fipronil could have been used were blocked from placing products on the market.
Modifications to AAC and RASFF?
The agreed measures include a focus on bridging the gap between the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) and the Administrative and Cooperation (AAC) system.
A combined platform will be looked at. The possibility of one contact point in each Member State for RASFF and AAC will also be considered.
Participants said reflection is needed on finding a more effective and timely triggering of the EU coordination step.
These points will be further discussed in a working group of the Standing Committee for Animals, Plants, Food and Feed in the future.
Andriukaitis said he wanted to make sure there is reflection on the lessons learnt.
“I also wanted to enhance communication between Member States and look for a more coherent and coordinated approach for the future in order to prevent such incidents from happening,” he said.
“The wide food supply poses challenges that require us to maintain strong and efficient food fraud detection system and procedures and to communicate and cooperate at all the levels.
“Indeed, food fraud cases as this one damage public trust in the food safety and can eventually lead to destruction of trust in particular food industry.”
Monitoring plans and risk based programs
An EU-wide monitoring plan on presence of illegal substances in eggs and poultry meat has been finalised and will be coordinated by the Commission.
Member States will encourage food businesses to improve existing self-monitoring programs and Member States and the Commission are looking at allocating resources to deal with crisis preparedness and management.
Greenpeace welcomed the move to better exchange information between national health agencies but called for EU-wide labelling of processed eggs used in products such as mayonnaise.
Fresh eggs are identified by country via a code stamped on them.
Andriukaitis outlined the focus of a few of the 19 measures.
“We will improve risk communication between Member States and Commission making sure it reaches the general public in a more coherent and swift way. We will make sure that it is easier to ensure rapid common risk assessment when such situations emerge,” he said.
“We will aim at bridging the gap between the use of RASFF and the Administrative and Cooperation system. These systems are our strength - we need to maximise their potential.
“We will consider a possibility to establish a 'food safety officer' in each Member State to make sure information flows as fast and as efficient as possible.”
EU official control labs are taking part in a proficiency test to determine fipronil in eggs organised by the Joint Research Centre (JRC).
Lena Blanken, from the German branch of the consumer organisation Foodwatch, said many large food scandals follow the same pattern.
“Farms must be obliged to test their own products extensively for contamination and possible health hazards. Companies that violate provisions of food law must pay high penalties. Frauds can no longer be worthwhile in the EU.”