The Food Standards Agency says the insecticide Fipronil is not authorised for use as a veterinary medicine or pesticide around food producing animals.
It has emerged that Fipronil has been wrongly used in cleaning products on some chicken farms in the mainland Europe to treat mites, and that some affected eggs and egg products with residue of the insecticide have been imported into the UK.
The Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) says it got an anonymous tip off about Fipronil being used illegally In November 2016.
At the time it says "there was no evidence that there were any acute food safety risks involved."
In June this year it says it received specific information about Fipronil being found in Belgian eggs.
What's the risk?
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is monitoring the situation and many shops and supermarkets have been removing suspected products from their shelves.
The FSA doesn’t believe contaminated fresh eggs have been sold in the UK. Processed eggs for chilled foods and sandwiches have been detected though. In these cases, they may also have been mixed with uncontaminated eggs further reducing the risk.
Because egg products often have a short shelf-life, some products may have been eaten before the warnings were issued.
The agency says the number of affected eggs represents 0.007% of the eggs we consume in the UK every year.
In a statement Heather Hancock, chairman of the Food Standards Agency, says: "I’m confident that acting quickly is the right thing to do. The number of eggs involved is small in proportion to the number of eggs we eat, and it is very unlikely that there is a risk to public health. Based on the available evidence there is no need for people to change the way they consume or cook eggs. However, Fipronil is not legally allowed for use near food-producing animals and it shouldn’t be there."
Are UK produced eggs affected?
No. The FSA says 85% of the eggs we eat have been laid here and it has found no evidence that UK eggs have been contaminated or that Fipronil has been used inappropriately here. However, testing of eggs on UK farms is being carried out.
British eggs carry the Red Lion mark and egg products can carry the 'Made with British Lion eggs' logo.
Should I be concerned?
Groups and experts have issued statements about the contamination and the risks.
Professor Chris Elliott, chair of food safety, Queen’s University Belfast, says this has the potential to be the largest recall of eggs in history: “The Fipronil scandal continues to grow – more affected farms, flocks and indeed countries. I predict more revelations are still to come.
However, he says risks are not high: "The likelihood of any related food illnesses from consuming contaminated products in extremely low."
Professor Alan Boobis, professor of biochemical pharmacology, Imperial College London, says: "Even at the highest level found, consumption of 1 or 2 egg-containing meals in a day would not exceed levels considered acceptable by EFSA [European Food safety Agency].
"Even when taken deliberately at 10,000 times the maximum amount likely to be consumed from contaminated eggs, the individuals survived with no long term harm."
Ian Jones, chairman of British Lion Egg Processors, says: “This is just the latest of a number of food safety issues connected to eggs produced outside of the UK in recent years. Consumers clearly want retailers and food manufacturers to use good quality British ingredients that are produced to high standards of food safety, but in some prepared foods this is not the case."
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