Brussels, Belgium | AFP | The Belgian government said Wednesday that it would take legal action to obtain compensation for businesses that lost money over insecticide-tainted eggs that were shipped across the European Union and as far away as Hong Kong.
The government pledged the civil action as part of several measures to help those hurt by the scandal, which led to the closure of many poultry farms and the destruction of million of eggs in Belgium alone.
“In a case of fraud committed by operators, their civil responsibility must be engaged in order to repair the damages caused by the criminal action that took place,” according to a statement from Prime Minister Charles Michel’s office.
“The state is set up to also obtain reparation for damages: general economic damage, incurred costs and any other damages,” it said.
It did not identify the target of the civil action, which coincides with criminal inquiries into suspected fraud underway in Belgium and the Netherlands.
The problem is believed to stem from a substance used by a Dutch company, Chickfriend, which farmers in the Netherlands and Belgium say they hired to treat their chickens.
Two Chickfriend managers are being held in the Netherlands on suspicion they endangered public health by using the insecticide, fipronil, at Dutch poultry farms.
A lawyer for a Belgian company, Poultry-Vision, says the firm sold the fipronil to Chickfriend but has not said where it got the substance.
Belgium has accused the Netherlands of having detected contaminated eggs as far back as November but keeping it quiet. The Netherlands has said it was tipped off about the use of fipronil in pens but did not know it was in eggs.
Belgium meanwhile has admitted it knew about fipronil in eggs in early June but kept it secret because of a fraud investigation.
Belgium became the first country to officially notify the EU’s food safety alert system on July 20, followed by the Netherlands and Germany, but the news did not go public until August 1.
Millions of eggs have been pulled from supermarket shelves and destroyed in 18 EU countries, and scores of poultry farms have been closed.
EU officials said tainted eggs that can harm human health in large quantities have also been exported to Hong Kong.
Commonly used to get rid of fleas, lice and ticks from animals, fipronil is banned by the European Union from use in the food industry.