Millions of chickens face cull in Europe health scandal

BRUSSELS/BERLIN: Prosecutors in Germany have launched a criminal investigation into farms in the state of Lower Saxony implicated in an egg contamination scandal, making it the third country to do so after Belgium and the Netherlands.
Gesa Weiss, a spokeswoman for the Oldenburg prosecutor’s office, said on Monday that farms whose eggs had tested positive for the insecticide fipronil were being investigated on suspicion of violating food safety and animal feed laws. She declined to give further details.
Millions of chickens could be culled in the Netherlands over fears of insecticide-tainted eggs, an industry body said as Belgium vowed full transparency on Monday about why it kept the scandal secret.
Supermarkets in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden and Switzerland have pulled millions of eggs from the shelves after fipronil was found in them.
Dutch farming organisation LTO said that several million hens may need to be culled at 150 companies in the country, with 300,000 having already been killed.
An LTO spokesman said late on Sunday that they “had to be eliminated because of contamination”.
Fipronil is a common ingredient in veterinary products for getting rid of fleas, lice and ticks in animals. It can cause damage to the liver, thyroid glands and kidneys, if consumed in large quantities, though this has only been tested on rats.
Millions of tainted eggs have been found in all of Germany’s 16 states except Saxony in the east.
There is evidence to suggest that a Belgian manufacturer may have illegally added fipronil to a detergent and sold the mixture to poultry farms in the three countries. Financial losses from the contamination are already in the millions of dollars.
Belgian Agricultural Minister Denis Ducarme criticised the decision of the country’s national food safety authority (FASNK) for withholding information about possible contamination since early June.
Ducarme told broadcaster RTBF on Monday that an ongoing investigation was no excuse for keeping the information secret, adding that “consumer protection has priority.”
FASNK said it did not inform the public so that the prosecutor’s office “could do its work.”
Belgium first informed other European Union countries through the EU’s alert system of the possible contamination on July 20. The Netherlands notified the EU on July 26 and Germany on July 31 of the issue.
The three countries updated their alerts over the weekend to specify that tainted eggs had been distributed to Switzerland, Sweden, Britain and France, the European Commission said on Monday.
It is up to national food safety bodies to take further action. Food safety agencies are now testing products that contain egg, including mayonnaise and ice cream, for traces of fipronil.
Meanwhile, animal rights activists in the Netherlands protested at the killing of chickens tainted with fipronil.
“Animals are not disposable items,” said protesters from six animal welfare organisations.
They said killing the chickens was unnecessary because the insecticide is degraded within four to six weeks and the eggs can then be used again.
According to the Dutch farmers’ association LTO, “1 million or several million chickens” are to be killed in about 150 poultry farms in the coming days.
Several hundreds of thousands of chickens have been killed already, and the total number of animals that will need to be killed is still unclear.
— dpa/AFP