The European Commissioner charged with food safety has called for a meeting of ministers and national regulatory agencies to discuss the effects of an eggs contamination scare that has led to finger pointing between several European Union members.
Tensions have risen between agricultural ministers in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany after traces of moderately toxic insecticide fipronil were found in batches of eggs, linked by authorities to a Dutch supplier of cleaning products.
While initially the Belgian food safety regulator drew criticism from abroad for not acting fast enough after being made aware of fipronil contamination, Belgium’s agriculture minister on Wednesday said it was the Dutch who were too slow to respond to inquiries.
“Blaming and shaming will bring us nowhere and I want to stop this,” EU Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis told Reuters in a statement.
Andriukaitis said he hoped to gather a meeting before the end of September of the ministers concerned, along with the various national food safety agency representatives.
“We need to work together to draw lessons learnt and move forward instead of losing energy on finger pointing,” he said.
Millions of eggs have been pulled from European supermarket shelves, though some national regulators have voiced concern that many contaminated eggs have entered the food chain, mainly through processed products such as biscuits, cakes and salads.
A European Commission spokesman said contaminated eggs had been found in 15 EU countries, as well as non-EU members Switzerland and Hong Kong.
He added that farms were blocked in four EU countries – Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands – because they had used cleaning products containing fipronil.
While a large amount of contaminated eggs would need to be eaten to affect health, fipronil is considered moderately toxic and can cause organ damage in humans.
Fipronil is widely used to treat pets for ticks and fleas but its use in the food chain, for example to clean out barns, is forbidden.
Dutch authorities on Thursday arrested two directors of the company at the centre of the food safety scare, with prosecutors saying they suspected them of threatening public health and possession of a prohibited pesticides.