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Questions and Answers on the Fipronil Contamination in Eggs

as of: 05.08.2017, updated: 15.08.2017

Egg production holdings in Belgium and the Netherlands were treated with a product for pest-control which was contaminated with the insecticide Fipronil. It is now known that contaminated eggs were delivered to all federal states.

What is Fipronil?

Fipronil is a pesticide. It is used, among other things, for treatment against fleas, lice, ticks, cockroaches, mites and ants. Use on food-producing animals (farm animals) is not permitted.

Fipronil is also authorised in the EU as an active substance in plant protection products. However, no plant protection products containing Fipronil are approved in Germany.

Why have eggs been contaminated with Fipronil?

Egg production holdings in Belgium and the Netherlands were treated with a product for pest-control which was contaminated with the insecticide Fipronil.

According to information obtained so far, contaminated eggs from the Netherlands arrived in North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Saxony, from where they were redistributed via local packing stations. It is now known that contaminated eggs were delivered to all federal states.

The same company that applied the tainted pest-control agent in Dutch production holdings also treated producer’s premises in Germany.

How was the treatment agent contaminated with Fipronil?

This question is currently being investigated by the prosecution authorities in Belgium and the Netherlands. The probable cause is the product Dega-16, an agent for treatment against vermin in poultry. It is assumed that Fipronil was unlawfully added to this product in the process of its application. Investigations by the competent authorities in Belgium and the Netherlands are still ongoing.

Which eggs are contaminated with Fipronil?

The information available at present indicates that eggs from the Netherlands and Germany are affected.

Information concerning the affected batch numbers and warnings issued by the federal states are available in German on www.lebensmittelwarnung.de.

How can consumers recognise contaminated eggs?

The competent supervisory authorities are recalling the affected batches of eggs and informing the public about the respective batch numbers. The stamp on each egg tells consumers whether the egg comes from a contaminated batch.

Further information (in German only):

www.lebensmittelwarnung.de

What does the code on the egg mean?

Should consumers avoid the consumption of eggs as a precaution?

According to the assessment of the competent Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), based on the currently available information (as of 8 August 2017) an immediate health risk for the consumer groups assessed, including children, is unlikely. This also applies if foodstuffs contaminated with Fipronil have been eaten over a longer period of time.

The BfR states that eggs can still be consumed in line with the recommendation for consumption issued by the German Nutrition Society (DGE). The DGE recommends up to three eggs a week, including processed eggs. These are guide values for adults.

What fundamental effects may Fipronil have on human health?

According to the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, Fipronil is acutely toxic in animal experiments when ingested orally, when inhaled or when absorbed through the skin. The substance is not classified as a skin or eye irritant and does not cause allergic skin reactions.

Fipronil has toxic effects on the nervous system in experiments with rats, mice, dogs and rabbits, but these effects subside in adult animals when they are no longer exposed to the substance. With rats, depending on the doses administered, damaging effects are observed in the nervous system of the offspring, if the mother animals have ingested the substance.

Detrimental effects on the liver have also been observed in rats and mice. According to current scientific knowledge, Fipronil is not classified as mutagenic or carcinogenic.

How many eggs can be consumed without exceeding the health-based reference value (acute reference dose)?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines the health-based reference value as the quantity of a substance per kilogram of body weight that can be ingested with one meal or within one day without any recognisable risk to the consumer.

For Fipronil, the BfR provides the following calculation as an example: Taking the highest level of Fipronil measured in Belgium (not Germany) of 1.2 mg Fipronil/kg egg as the basis, from a purely mathematical standpoint a child with a body weight of 16.15 kg may consume 1.7 eggs (with a weight of 70 g per egg) in one day (at once or within 24 hours), without exceeding the health-based reference value. An adult with a body weight of 65 kg may therefore eat seven eggs in one day (at once or within 24 hours), without exceeding the health-based reference value. As long as the estimated maximum intake does not exceed this value, health risks are unlikely. A child with a body weight of 10 kg – which corresponds approximately to a one-year-old child – may accordingly eat one egg per day (at once or within 24 hours), without exceeding the health-based reference value.

Are there any health risks for pregnant women or unborn children?

According to the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, the health-based reference value also includes vulnerable population groups, such as pregnant women.

What happens if contaminated eggs have already been eaten?

According to the BfR, exceedance of the health-based reference value does not necessarily pose an acute health risk, but merely indicates consumers’ possible exposure to a health hazard.

The safety factor between the highest dose in animal studies at which no significant health-damaging findings were observed and the health-based reference value for humans is 100 in the case of Fipronil. This means that the dose that did not cause any health impairments in animal studies was divided by 100 to obtain an appropriate safety margin for the application to humans.

May organic eggs also have been contaminated with Fipronil?

Provided that Fipronil was used in a holding with organic laying hen husbandry – which is generally prohibited –, organic eggs may also have been contaminated with the substance.

Are processed food products also affected?

Investigations to date have shown that contaminated eggs were also supplied to processing companies. The supervisory authorities in the federal states are therefore also focusing their investigations on processed food; some products have already been recalled.

May foods of plant origin also have been contaminated with Fipronil?

Since 2010, the competent authorities in the federal states have sent the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety results from 280,893 tests for Fipronil residues. 270,252 of the tests were conducted on plant-based foods. In 338 cases, Fipronil was detected in foods of plant origin.

Have eggs been examined for Fipronil in the past?

Since 2010, the competent authorities in the federal states have sent the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety results from 280,893 tests for Fipronil residues. 4,869 of the tests were conducted on foods of animal origin, of which 171 related to eggs and egg products.

No Fipronil residues were detected in any of the food products of animal origin.

In 2015, chicken eggs were monitored for contaminating substances, including Fipronil. Fipronil was not found in any of the samples.

There were also no traces found in animal feed for the test period 2011 to 2016.

Do Fipronil levels change when contaminated eggs are processed?

Based on current information, cooking or roasting Fipronil (for 20 minutes at 120 °C) does not degrade the substance. For this reason, it is currently assumed that processed products have the same Fipronil levels as unprocessed eggs.

Eggs are used for the production of numerous foods. The percentage of egg contained in a product varies for different foods. For foods that are produced with an admixture of eggs it can be assumed that the Fipronil concentration is diluted.

Does the consumption of chicken meat pose any health risks caused by the Fipronil levels measured in Germany?

As far as we know now, a Fipronil-containing product had been used illegally in livestock buildings where pullets and laying hens were kept for egg production. Meat derived from laying hens may be used as boiling fowl, for instance. Broilers are produced in separate companies. So far there is no evidence of Fipronil having been used in these companies.

Based on the few official analytical results from Germany, the BfR arrives at the conclusion that, according to current scientific knowledge, the consumption of chicken meat is unlikely to pose an acute health risk to the consumer groups assessed, including children.

What are the authorities doing to protect consumers?

The competent supervisory authorities in the federal states are recalling batches of eggs and are making information available to the public on their own websites and on www.lebensmittelwarnung.de.

A crisis management centre has been established at the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety, where information from the federal states and the European Rapid Alert System (RASFF) is gathered and analysed.

The authorities of the Member States use the Rapid Alert System to exchange information about health-damaging and unmarketable food.

You can find more information on the cooperation between authorities of the federal government and the federal states in the brochure entitled “Understanding Food Safety”.

Should consumers report to the authorities where and when they bought eggs with a listed batch number?

Consumers may contact the competent local food and veterinary control authority at any time. Based on the available delivery lists, the competent food inspection authorities are currently tracing back all distribution channels of contaminated eggs. Additional notification by consumers is therefore not necessary.

What should consumers do if they have purchased contaminated eggs?

Contaminated batches should either be returned to the retailer or be disposed of as household rubbish.

Will all laying hen farms in Germany be tested for Fipronil?

The supervisory authorities of the federal states are concentrating their investigations on deliveries of eggs from the holdings where the product that was contaminated with Fipronil may have been applied. In addition to that, eggs from other holdings are also tested on the basis of sampling.

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