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What we know about Europe’s contaminated eggs scare

Brussels, Belgium | AFP | Europe faces a growing scandal over the contamination of millions of eggs with the insecticide fipronil, which can be potentially harmful to humans.

Here is what we know about a scare which has seen eggs pulled from supermarket shelves in eight countries and involves multiple criminal investigations:

– What is fipronil? –

Fipronil is a widely used insecticide. It is often used to rid household pets like dogs and cats of fleas and is also effective at treating poultry for the parasite red lice.

But it is banned by the European Union from being used to treat animals destined for human consumption, including chickens.

The World Health Organization says fipronil is “moderately hazardous” in large quantities, with dangerous effects on people’s kidneys, liver and thyroid glands.

– What is the risk? –

Authorities in the affected countries say there is no risk to public health.

EU rules say eggs with a level of fipronil above 0.005 mg per kg must be withdrawn from sale even though there is no significant health risk.

Fipronil levels above 0.72 mg per kg are a possible “acute” health risk and should not be eaten.

– When did it start? –

The problem is believed to stem from a substance used by Dutch company Chickfriend, which farmers in the Netherlands and Belgium say they hired to treat their chickens.

A lawyer for a Belgian company, Poultry-Vision, says the firm sold it 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 2016 but keeping it quiet. The Netherlands denies knowing.

But Belgium has admitted that it knew about fipronil in eggs in early June but kept it secret because of a fraud investigation.

Belgium officially notified the EU’s food safety alert system on July 20, followed by the Netherlands on July 26 and Germany on July 31.

National authorities did not make it public until August 1.

– What countries are affected? –

The contaminated eggs have mainly come from the Netherlands, followed by Belgium and Germany. Scores of farms in the Netherlands and Belgium have been shut.

Sweden, Switzerland, Britain, France and Luxembourg have also now announced that they have found contaminated eggs.

Millions of eggs have been pulled from supermarket shelves in these countries.

– Are authorities investigating? –

Belgium and The Netherlands raided several premises on Thursday as part of a criminal probe into the egg scandal

Dutch investigators arrested two managers at a company the media identified as Chickfriend. Belgium says the head of Poultry-Vision was held for questioning in July, then released under strict conditions.

Germany has said there was “criminal intent”.

The European Commission said any countries found not to have notified Brussels immediately about the detection of fipronil could face legal action.

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