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Tainted Dutch eggs scandal widens across borders


The Hague (AFP)

Supermarkets in the Netherlands and Germany moved to halt some egg sales Thursday as hundreds of thousands may have been contaminated by a toxic insecticide in a widening food scandal.

Amid fears the Dutch poultry industry could be facing millions of euros in losses, the country's biggest supermarket chain Albert Heijn said it was pulling 14 types of eggs from its shelves.

"All the eggs of these 14 kinds have been sent back to the depot and destroyed," company spokeswoman Els van Dijk told AFP.

It was "an unprecedented" situation for Albert Heijn, she added, saying instructions of the Dutch food authority (NVWA) were being followed.

Damage to Dutch poultry farms is already believed to have run into millions of euros, said Hennie de Haan, president of the National Poultry Owners union.

The NVWA was due to publish its findings later Thursday having closed 180 poultry farms across The Netherlands this week after traces of the insecticide, fipronil, was first found in samples taken from eggs, droppings and meat in late July.

Manufactured by Germany's BASF among other companies, fipronil is commonly used in veterinary products to get rid of fleas, lice and ticks.

But it is banned from being used to treat animals destined for human consumption, such as chickens.

The European Commission said it had been made aware of the egg issue, and EC spokeswoman Anna-Kaisa Itkonen told reporters developments were being monitored "very closely".

"What I can say is that the farms are identified, the eggs are blocked, the contaminated eggs are traced and withdrawn from the market, and the situation is under control."

It is believed the substance was introduced to poultry farms by a Dutch business, named Chickfriend, which was called in to treat red lice, a nasty parasite in chickens.

German Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt called a "crisis teleconference" Thursday with his counterparts in German states where fipronil was also detected in eggs.

About one million eggs being transported to Germany were also recalled from the border on Tuesday with The Netherlands, the Dutch food authority NVWA added.

Belgium's federal food chain security agency (AFSCA) said it too has launched an investigation in cooperation with prosecutors.

Tests have found fipronil in some eggs but not in quantities that pose a threat to human health. None of the eggs have made it to Belgian supermarket shelves, the Belgian authority said.

In large quantities, the substance is considered to be "moderately hazardous" according to the World Health Organisation, and can have dangerous effects on people's kidneys, liver and thyroid glands.

It is another blow for Dutch poultry farmers, some of who believe they could now be facing bankruptcy, after 190,000 ducks were culled in November due to a highly infectious strain of bird flu.

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