Dutch food safety auth. tipped off about fipronil contamination last year: Health Min. confirms

Edith Schippers (Photo: Rijksoverheid.nl/Wikimedia Commonst)Edith Schippers (Photo: Rijksoverheid.nl/Wikimedia Commonst)

A tip the Dutch food safety authority NVWA received about the use of toxic fipronil on Dutch poultry farms in November last year, specifically mentioned Barneveld pest control company ChickFriend, Public Health Minister Edith Schippers confirmed in a letter to parliament, ANP reports.

At the time the NVWA did not see any reason for further investigation. The Dutch authority only took action in June after Belgium reported that fipronil was found in eggs and again mentioned ChickFriend, Schippers wrote. 

ChickFriend used a fipronil containing insecticide to treat the chicken stables and various Dutch farms against blood lice. Fipronil in itself is not a banned substance, but it is not allowed to be used around chickens. The World Health Organization considers fipronil to be "moderately toxic" to humans. Large quantities of the insecticide - used to fight ticks, fleas and lice - can cause liver, kidney and thyroid gland damage. 

When the public became aware of this contamination in July, NVWA stopped production at some 200 poultry farms, recalled millions of eggs and halted the export of eggs. The NVWA now also tested egg containing products for fipronil. More than the allowed concentration was found in a Surinamese egg salad that was tested. But that amount was still so low that there is no risk to public health, according to Schippers.

She added that the investigation into the fipronil scandal will be completed by the end of the year. Part of the investigators' job is to clarify why it took the NVWA seven months to respond to the tip of the contamination.

A total of three Dutch are suspects in the investigation into the fipronil contamination. Two ChickFriend managers were arrested and were remanded into custody for two weeks on Tuesday. The third suspect claims that he was the one to tip off the NVWA in November. A Belgian supplier called Poultry-Vision is also subject to investigation.

The Belgian authorities are doing their own investigation into the scandal. How much damage was done in Belgium is unclear, though the Belgian government already announced measures to compensate affected companies. Belgium is also taking legal action against ChickFriend to recover these damages.

The damage to the Dutch poultry sector is estimated to be at least 150 million euros. The Ministry of Economic Affairs, in cooperation with the poultry sector, is looking for ways to help affected farmers.