The main suspects in the 2017 fipronil in eggs scandal have been sentenced to a year in prison by a Dutch court.

Managers of Chickfriend and Chickclean were given 12 months in jail for using fipronil at poultry farms in the Netherlands and endangering public health.

The 28-year-old and 35-year-old men presented themselves as specialists in the control of red mites and offered a solution for the poultry sector. Red mites suck the blood from chickens, which can lead to reduced egg production and increased susceptibility to disease.

The court heard they knowingly sold a product to disinfect poultry houses that contained fipronil, which was banned for such use and neglected food safety, caused health risks, environmental and economic damage.

Incident timeline
Between 2015 and 2017, they cleaned the sheds of 283, or around 20 percent, of all poultry farmers in the Netherlands. When this was revealed in 2017, hundreds of farms were shut down, millions of chickens were killed and tens of millions of eggs destroyed.

The health risks to people from eating eggs contaminated with fipronil were judged to be very small but concerns were also raised about exposure to farmers during their work.

The two companies were given a conditional fine of €25,000 ($29,800) with a probationary period of three years. Any money should go to affected parties, such as poultry farmers, according to the court.

The court saw no reason to shut down the company since no activities have taken place for a long period and there are no indications of operations in the future.

In July 2017, the Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) carried out an inspection after the Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain in Belgium alerted the NVWA in June 2017 that fipronil was found in eggs at a Belgian company that had been treated with a product called Dega-16 against red mites.

The court concluded that fipronil was the active substance in Dega-16, Dega 1 L, Dega P, Fyprorein, Fyprocleaner, and Menthol-boast. It added that amitraz was used in Miteclean to combat red mites. Both substances were not authorized to be used for red mite control.

The suspects bought most products from a Belgian supplier and used them in red mite control without checking all substances were allowed. The label of Dega-16 did not state that it contained fipronil and poultry farmers told the inquiry that the suspects didn’t want to say exactly what was in the product.

Other rulings and status in Belgium
Another judgment in March ruled against poultry farmers that held the NVWA liable for the damage they suffered in connection with the crisis in 2017.

The farmers believed that the NVWA should have taken action against Chickfriend earlier but their claims were dismissed by the court which ruled that poultry farmers themselves are primarily responsible for the quality of eggs they produce.

In Belgium, 76 operators in the primary sector and 31 in the processing and distribution sectors impacted by the illegal use of fipronil were compensated, totaling €12 million ($14.3 million).

Seven individuals and four firms are set for a court date in the country later this month.

The five men are aged 27, 35, 48, 52 and 64 from Ravels, Kortemark, Torhout, Melle, Houthalen-Helchteren and Libramont-Chevigny. Two women aged 36 and 37 from Antwerp and Chaam and four companies from Ravels, Torhout, Melle and Hamois were also referred to court.

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