Food safety auth. under fire in parliamentary debate on egg crisis

Eggs
Eggs. Photo: Emilian Robert Vicol / Wikimedia Commons

Dutch food safety authority NVWA is facing fierce criticism in the Tweede Kamer on Thursday. The parliamentarians have nothing good to say about the NVWA's actions in dealing with millions of Dutch . In summary, the MPs accused the NVWA of not communicating well, not responding adequately to an anonymous tip about the contamination and having an inadequate setup to deal with such a crisis, NU.nl reports.

According to the parliamentarians, the first massive sign of the poor communication at the NVWA was on August 1st, when the second man at the authority appeared on a Nieuwsuur broadcast. He advised the public to until more is known about the contamination. "A terrible and unnecessary statement", the poultry sector itself responded. And the parliamentarians agree.

That statement created the image of an untrustworthy supervisor, according to CDA parliamentarian Jaco Geurts in the Tweede Kamer on Thursday. VVD MP Helma Lodders called that performance a low point in communication. "The trust was harmed rather than recovered", said SGP parliamentarian Roelof Bisschop. 

GroenLinks, SP and animal party PvdD want to know why the secotor is regulating itself. PvdD parliamentarian Esther Ouwehand blames the CDA and VVD for creating this situation in a previous government. "That self-regulation does not work, she said.  A number of parliamentarians also wondered whether the supervision was damaged by too many budget cuts.

"Complete nonsense", according to the VVD and CDA. Lodders points out that pest control company ChickFriend - considered responsible for the fipronil contamination in the Netherlands - deliberately committed fraud when it used fipronil to treat over 200 poultry farms against blood lice. That can not be blamed on failing supervision, according to the VVD MP. And both parties point out that the budget only increased over the past period and that improvements were made.

The poultry sector also got a great deal of criticism. "Where was the farmers' sense?" D66 parliamentarian Stientje van Veldhoven wanted to know. She finds it unbelievable that not a single farmer became suspicious when a small new company appeared with "miracle cure" for effectively fighting blood lice. "If something seems too good to be true, it probably is", Van Veldhoven said. 

The Kamer committee for Economic Affairs came to debate the fipronil contaminated eggs crisis with Minister Edith Schippers of Public Health and State Secretary Matijn van Dam of Economic Affairs. In a letter the two officials sent parlamentarians on Wednesday, the third such letter in this crisis, it was revealed that the about ChickFriend using fipronil in November last year. 

The parliamentarians were already informed of . That already raised many questions about why the NVWA didn't immediately investigate whether rules were being violated. It eventually took signals from Belgium before the NVWA stepped in.

Schippers said that she doesn't want to create scapegoats in the debate about who was responsible. "The responsibility lies with us, and we will not turn our backs on it." She first wants to find out exactly what happened, Schippers said, referring to an investigation into the course of the egg crisis that will be led by former minister Winnie Sorgdrager. 

Schippers called it an "illusion" that the NVWA will be able to catch and prevent everything, no matter how much money you push into it. "Then you as government must produce food yourself to know exactly what's going on in the stables", she said. She admitted, however, that the NVWA could have and should have acted better. "Therefore, an improvement trajectory was set."

The direct damage to the poultry farmers involved in the fipronil crisis is currently estimated to be around 33 million euros. This amount only covers the eggs and chickens that had to be destroyed due to contamination, according to NU.nl. The amount of damage for entire sector is not yet clear. A total of 258 poultry companies currently can not sell any chicken or eggs.

On Wednesday it was also revealed that ChickFriend used another banned substance - amitraz. This moderately toxic substance was used to fight flies around calves, according to the newspaper. Amitraz is used against insects and mites and may damage animals' central nervous system. 

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