Three people in Belgium have been sentenced for their roles in the 2017 fipronil affair that involved hundreds of poultry farms.

Prison terms range from one year to 18 months suspended for endangering public health and damages were awarded to civil parties. Seven individuals and four firms faced the court in Antwerp.

Investigations started in 2017 after high levels of fipronil were detected in eggs in Belgium and the Netherlands. Hundreds of poultry farms had to be cleared, with livestock and millions of eggs destroyed.

Jail time and financial penalties
Belgian and Dutch authorities identified a network of suspects selling Dega-16 which contained fipronil to combat the problem of red mites on poultry farms. To hide use of the substance, fake labels were used with traders operating without a valid license. Hundreds of poultry farmers started using the product.

Eurojust supported an action day in 2017 which saw more than 10 premises searched and nine suspects arrested for crimes including the possession of dangerous biocides.

Patrick Remijsen, who sold Dega-16, and his partner who worked with him at a company called Agro Remijsen, were found guilty of importing fipronil from Romania and selling the product without the necessary permits. The court heard evidence that they falsified the labeling of Dega-16 and other official documents for the product by not stating it contained fipronil.

The former was sentenced to three years in prison, of which two were suspended, and fined €200,000 ($243,500), which was suspended. His partner was given a suspended prison sentence of 18 months and a suspended fine of €20,000 ($24,300). An appeal is still possible.

One of the companies that used Dega-16 was also found guilty. The court heard that the firm used the product at customers knowing that it contained a substance that was not mentioned on the label. The company’s manager was handed a suspended prison sentence of 18 months and a suspended fine of €20,000.

Awarded damages
Others were acquitted as it was not proven that they were aware Dega-16 contained fipronil.

Compensation of more than €4 million ($4.8 million) was awarded to farmers and victims for economic damage suffered after poultry was destroyed and eggs were removed from store shelves.

The Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC) was granted €17 million ($20.7 million) compensation and Ovam (the Public Waste Agency of Flanders) got €1.8 million ($2.2 million).

Eurojust assisted with investigations in 2017 and helped set up and operate a joint investigation team between Belgium and the Netherlands, to support judicial action against the suspects.

In April this year, two Dutch suspects were sentenced to one year in prison for their roles in the scandal. The managers of Chickfriend and Chickclean used fipronil at poultry farms in the Netherlands. Between 2015 and 2017, they cleaned the sheds of about 20 percent of all poultry farmers in the Netherlands.

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