European Commission calls for emergency summit on contaminated egg scandal

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The European Commission has called for an emergency summit of ministers and regulators as it seeks to tackle the fallout of the fipronil egg contamination scandal.

EU health commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis also called for collaboration between countries to tackle the problem amidst a “blame game” going on between Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands about who was responsible for the scare.

“Blaming and shaming will bring us nowhere and I want to stop this,” Andriukaitis said.

“I propose 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,” he added. “We need to work together to draw lessons learnt and move forward instead of losing energy on finger pointing.” The summit will be held on 26 September.

Millions of eggs across 15 EU member states, plus Hong Kong and Switzerland have been recalled following the discovery of batches contaminated with the insecticide fipronil on 180 Dutch farms. The FSA said yesterday (11 August) it now believed close to 700,000 eggs from contaminated farms had been imported to the UK and were now in the food chain, a vast increase on its initial figure of just 21,000. 

Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Waitrose and Asda have withdrawn some of their egg products, including salads and sandwiches, as a result of the scare, which led to the arrest of two suspects by Dutch authorities yesterday. However, the retailers insisted the recalls were “precautionary”.

The FSA has said the number of eggs involved in the UK remained small - having affected just 0.007% of eggs consumed in the UK every year - and has stressed it is “very unlikely” there was any risk to public health.

An FSA spokesman told The Grocer today that testing by Fera Science was under way at farms and egg production centres across the UK. The analytical threshold for a positive fipronil result is 2.5 parts per billion, he added, which should give “confidence that the presence of fipronil can be detected at very low levels.”

The scandal showed the UK’s major retailers had “double standards” on eggs, said British Lion Egg Processors chairman Ian Jones, as unlike the situation with shell eggs (which are predominantly UK sourced), imported eggs were commonplace in processed foods sold in the UK.

It should serve as a “wake-up call for retailers,” added British Free Range Egg Producers Association CEO Robert Gooch.

“Retailers have shown good commitment to British shell eggs but processed egg is often sourced from other countries. Consumers want safe, traceable food and we have a ready-made scheme which delivers that in the form of the British Lion Code.”

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