Fear spreads over tainted eggs despite low risk to consumers

AMSTERDAM (AP) — Experts say the risk of getting sick from eating an egg tainted with insecticide is low. But that hasn’t stopped stores in Germany and the Netherlands from stripping them from supermarket shelves, or prevented other European food safety agencies from issuing warnings.

The story about the illegal use of the insecticide Fipronil in spray to rid hens of ticks, fleas and lice has gained traction across Europe. Fears about the safety of an everyday food staple along with some less-than-optimal public information have combined to cast a shadow of suspicion over the humble egg.

Amsterdam shopper Karla Spreekmeester said Friday that she only buys eggs from stores selling organic food products.

“I take it seriously,” she said of the Dutch warning. “I’m not scared that I’ll collapse if I eat the wrong egg, but if you can prevent something …”

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Fipronil is commonly used by veterinarians to treat fleas and ticks in pets, but is banned by the European Union for treating animals like chickens that are part of the human food chain.

The EU said contaminated eggs have been found at producers in Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands. It’s believed the Fipronil got into the food chain when it was illegally added to a product used to spray poultry.

The impact for egg producers has been staggering.

Since July 20, Dutch farmers have destroyed millions of unsellable eggs and culled about 1 million hens, said Hennie de Haan of the Dutch union of poultry farmers.

But nobody has been reported to have fallen ill as a result of eating the tainted eggs.

“People are very susceptible to negative information,” said Jan-Willem van Prooijen, a social psychologist at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. “People are very attuned to perceive and respond emotionally to negative information such as potential health hazards or other threatening stimuli.”

In recent days, Dutch authorities blocked sales from about 180 infected farms treated by a company suspected of illicitly using Fipronil.

Almost all lab tests show that only very low levels of Fipronil — seven to 10 times lower than the maximum permitted — have been detected in eggs from the treated chickens, although one test in Belgium was above the European limit. Poisoning by small doses has few effects and requires little treatment. Heavy and prolonged exposure can damage the kidneys and…

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