Dutch watchdog under scanner in egg scandal
The Hague - Millions of eggs have been pulled from supermarket shelves across Europe
Published: Sat 12 Aug 2017, 9:45 PM
Last updated: Sat 12 Aug 2017, 11:57 PM
Years of cuts at the Dutch food watchdog agency and a tendency among politicians to put economics ahead of public safety may be to blame for the EU's tainted-egg scandal that has spread as far as Hong Kong.
Millions of eggs have been pulled from supermarket shelves across Europe and dozens of poultry farms have closed since it emerged on August 1 that eggs contaminated with fipronil, which can harm human health, were being exported and sold.
Fipronil is widely used to rid household pets such as dogs and cats of fleas, but is banned by the European Union from treating animals destined for human consumption, including chickens.
The World Health Organisation says fipronil is "moderately hazardous" in large quantities, with potential danger to people's kidneys, liver and thyroid glands.
Food safety authorities in The Netherlands - where farmers are at the epicentre of the row - this week admitted they received an anonymous tip-off last November about the use of fipronil in chicken pens but refuted allegations of negligence.
"It's mind-blowing that there was no connection made then, between the tip-off and the fact that fipronil may have contaminated both the chickens and the eggs," Dutch investigative journalist and food writer Marcel van Silfhout told.
Had the NVWA acted at that point, the latest trouble to hit the export-dependent Dutch food industry could have largely been avoided, said Van Silfhout, who penned a critical book about food safety and the NVWA in 2014.
Martin van den Berg, a professor and senior toxicologist at Utrecht University's Institute of Risk Assessment Sciences, added: "If there were investigators who were experts in this area and understood the impact of fipronil, maybe there would have been a different reaction."
But after consultations following the tip-off, the NVWA decided "there was no reason to think that fipronil would enter either eggs or chickens," two Dutch ministers said.