Dutch egg producers’ practice of mixing the toxic insecticide Fipronil with a cleaning agent and sanitizer known as “Dega 16” for use around chickens has apparently led to the world’s largest recall of shell eggs since 2010.

The first Fipronil-contaminated eggs were reported July 20 by food safety authorities in Belgium. The insecticide-tainted eggs turned up in the Netherlands two days later. Then there was a delay of several days before the Dutch egg producers acknowledged that millions of the Fipronil-contaminated eggs had been shipped throughout Germany. Millions of eggs, the exact number is not known, are being recalled by all three countries.

Other countries around the world are on guard because of the Dutch egg scandal.

The Food Standards Agency in the United Kingdom reports “a very small number of eggs have been distributed to the UK from the farms affected.” It says the UK does not permit Fipronil as a veterinary medicine or pesticide and it may not be used around food producing animals.

“The government has already taken action to prevent any risk to UK consumers by adding Fipronil to its robust surveillance program in UK farms. We have no evidence that eggs laid in the UK are contaminated or that Fipronil has been used inappropriately in the UK,” according to FSA’s statement on the egg crisis.

“85 percent of the eggs we consume in the UK are laid here. The number of eggs involved represents about 0.0001 percent of the eggs imported into the UK each year. Our risk assessment, based on all the information available, indicates that as part of a normal healthy diet this low level of potential exposure is unlikely to be a risk to public health and there is no need for consumers to be concerned. Our advice is that there is no need for people to change the way they consume or cook eggs or products containing eggs.”

In Asia, the Center for Food Safety in Hong Kong is cautioning the public against using the Dutch eggs, and it has ordered retailers to stop selling them.

Food safety officials in Hong Kong posted this photo of Dutch eggs they ordered pulled from retail shelves. The Cheer Fresh Dutch Brown Eggs have the code 2-NL 4378101 and a best-before date of Nov. 6.

“Based on the levels of pesticide residue detected in the samples, adverse health effect(s) will not be caused under usual consumption,” according to the Hong Kong center’s Aug. 4 statement. “However, for the sake of prudence, members of the public who have bought the affected batch of the products should stop consuming it.

“The CFS has taken a precautionary measure with effect from today that all eggs imported from the Netherlands will be held for testing and will only be released to the market for sale upon satisfactory test results.”

The Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) has told receiving areas that the pesticide Fipronil was detected in certain eggs at levels that might cause adverse effects and consumption of the affected eggs was not advised. The Center for Food Safety in Hong Kong, using information and egg codes supplied by NVWA, did its own tests on two samples of eggs. Both samples were positive for Fipronil, at levels of 0.064 parts per million (ppm) and 0.055 ppm, respectively. The maximum level permitted in Hong Kong is 0.02 ppm.

Because of those results, CFS has had the eggs removed from shelves and ordered the importer, Dah Chong Hong Limited, to initiate a recall.

Fipronil was found in sufficient levels to cause 180 poultry farms in the Netherlands to be closed. Enough insecticide was found on another 59 Dutch farms for their eggs to require health warnings for children.

The recall efforts are being assisted by Europe’s practice of requiring numbering of each shell egg. German grocery stores are both recalling the eggs and promising customers that they are not selling any Dutch eggs.

German officials are upset over the delay in the Netherlands releasing producer names and numbers that are involved. German Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt has called on Belgium and Netherlands to pursue whoever had “criminal intent to contaminate” the eggs with a banned product.

Fipronil is allowed for use on fleas, mites, ticks, and other similar insects. The World Health Organization (WHO) says the toxic substance can damage the liver, kidneys, and thyroid gland, but only if ingested in large amounts.

While the exact numbers have not been disclosed, the Dutch egg recall is the largest since 2010 when 550 million eggs were recalled in the United States for Salmonella contamination linked to two Iowa egg farms.

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