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CONTAMINATION

Tainted eggs scandal spreads to France

France and Britain said Monday that some insecticide-tainted eggs may have entered their countries, as millions of chickens faced being culled in the Netherlands in a growing European contamination scandal.

Tainted eggs scandal spreads to France
Belgium meanwhile vowed full transparency about why it kept the scandal secret despite originally learning in June about the problem involving fipronil, a substance potentially dangerous to humans.
   
Supermarkets in Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium have pulled millions of eggs from the shelves since Belgium gave the European Commission the first notification on July 20, while retailers in Sweden and Switzerland have followed suit.
   
The Commission said Monday that under its EU rapid alert system it had been determined that eggs under suspicion of contamination had also been distributed to France and Britain via Germany.
   
“It's now up to the Swedish, Swiss, French and to the UK to check because all these eggs are traceable and trackable,” Commission spokeswoman Anna-Kaisa Itkonen told reporters.
   
Britain's Food Standards Agency said it was “urgently investigating the distribution of these eggs in the UK” from farms at the centre of the scare, while adding that “the number of eggs involved is very small and the risk to public health is very low”.
   
It did not give a number but said it represented 0.0001 percent of eggs annually imported into Britain.
   
“We are working closely with the businesses that have received eggs from affected farms. Investigations to date indicate that any affected products are no longer on the shelves,” it said.
 
AFP   
 
The French government said 13 batches of Dutch eggs contaminated with fipronil have been found at two food-processing factories in central-western France.
   
The agriculture ministry said they were unable to immediately say whether any of the products had been shipped to customers.
 
It is believed the toxic substance was introduced to poultry farms by a Dutch business named Chickfriend brought in to treat red lice, a parasite in chickens.
 
Dutch and Belgian media reports that the substance containing the insecticide was supplied to Chickfriend by a Belgian firm have not been confirmed.
   
The French agriculture ministry also said Monday that on July 28 a poultry farm at Pas-de-Calais in northern France was put under surveillance after the farmer told authorities a Belgian supplier had provided him with the tainted product in question.
   
The ministry said no eggs from the farm have been sent to market and that the results of testing there should be known by the end of the week.
   
Meanwhile Dutch farming organisation LTO said several million hens may need to be culled at 150 companies in the country, with 300,000 having already been killed.
 
An LTO spokesman said they “had to be eliminated because of contamination”.
 
'Complete transparency' 
 
Dutch authorities have shuttered 138 poultry farms — about a fifth of those across the country — and warned that eggs from another 59 farms contained high enough levels of fipronil that they should not be eaten by children.
   
Belgium currently has production blocked from 51 farms — a quarter of those nationwide — with fipronil found at 21 farms, although levels were ten times below the maximum EU limit, the country's food safety authority AFSCA said.
   
Belgium's agriculture minister meanwhile said he had ordered the agency to report by Tuesday on why it failed to notify neighbouring countries until July 20 despite knowing about fipronil contamination since June.
   
Denis Ducarme said in a statement he had told AFSCA to produce a “report on the circumstances of the agency's actions since the first information it received about the fipronil problem”
   
Facing pressure from Germany and the Netherlands, Ducarme promised “complete transparency”.
   
Belgian officials admitted on Saturday they had kept the problem under wraps and failed to trigger the EU's international food safety alert system, but said it was because of a fraud probe.
   
Germany has demanded an explanation from Belgium about why the issue was kept covered up.
   
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 substance is absorbed into the skin or feathers of chickens and then passes into the eggs.
   
In large quantities, the insecticide is considered “moderately hazardous” by the World Health Organization, and can have dangerous effects on people's kidneys, liver and thyroid glands.

CONTAMINATION

French prosecutors to probe Lactalis baby milk contamination

French prosecutors have opened a probe into salmonella contamination and a major international recall of baby milk produced by dairy giant Lactalis, a legal source told AFP on Tuesday.

French prosecutors to probe Lactalis baby milk contamination
The Celia dairy company's infant milk factory owned by the LNS Lactalis group in Craon. Photo: Damien Meyer/AFP

The investigation will focus on possible charges of causing involuntary injuries and endangering the lives of others but also possible cheating and failures in carrying out a product recall, the source said.

Reports of some 20 children falling sick after consuming Lactalis powdered milk — sold under several different brand names in France and abroad, including Picot and Milumel — first emerged in early December.

The company, one of the world's largest producers of dairy products, ordered a first major recall on December 10 of nearly 7,000 tonnes of packets produced by a contaminated factory in Craon, northwest France.

At the time, it said it did not know how much of the potentially dangerous powder had been consumed or was in shops around the world and it announced a second, wider recall on December 21st.

The group has now recalled all of its production from the Craon factory since February 15th, blaming the contamination on renovation work carried out earlier this year.

Lactalis could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

The product withdrawals have affected consumers in countries as far afield as China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Britain and Sudan, underlining the company's global reach and the difficulty in tracing all the potentially at-risk powder.

Salmonella symptoms include severe diarrhoea, stomach cramps and vomiting. The illness — caused by intestinal bacteria from farm animals — is especially dangerous for the very young and elderly because it can cause severe dehydration.

The baby milk industry was shaken by a huge scare in China in 2008 when local manufacturers were found to be bulking their product with an industrial chemical.

Six babies died and around 300,000 others were made ill.

The scare in the vast and growing Chinese market benefited rival companies such as Lactalis and fellow French giant Danone, which were more expensive but were seen by consumers as safe and high quality.

Sixteen babies hospitalised

A total of 35 infants have fallen sick with salmonella poisoning in France since August including 16 who were hospitalised, an unusually high number that sparked fears of an epidemic.

Of these, 31 were found to have consumed Lactalis products from its factory in Craon, which was shut down on December 8 for a major cleaning.

The company believes the salmonella outbreak can be traced to an evaporation tower used to dry out the milk at the factory it acquired in 2006.

The plant had suffered salmonella contamination the previous year.

Quentin Guillemain, the father of a three-month-old baby who drank the milk but did not fall ill, has filed a complaint against Lactalis and the UFC Que Choisir consumer association announced plans to do so.

Guillemain has set up a support group for the families of infants sickened by the milk.

The legal probe was opened by prosecutors in Paris specialised in public health issues.

By Mehdi Cherifia