No less than 17 countries had to deal with tainted eggs originating from the Netherlands and Belgium recently, with recalls happening all over the place. The eggs had minimal traces of the insecticide fipronil in them, a substance that hardly anyone had heard of before until the recent egg crisis.
Unfortunately the eggs on foreign supermarket shelves represented only a fraction of the eggs involved. The real crisis occurred in the countries of origin, especially among Dutch, Belgian and a couple of German egg farmers, some 200 in total. They were on lock down for over two weeks, and as packers, retailers and governments scrambled to find sold eggs by their unique egg code, the 200 or so flocks carried on laying. Most of the eggs were destroyed and birds were molted in an attempt to get the insecticide out of their bodies.
Following the crisis from the start was like watching a train wreck in happening slow motion. Constantly having this gut feeling that it would get worse, but only knowing so after days of the news being released by the controlling authorities. What started off with only seven farms being involved, quickly spread to the hundreds, with almost all of them testing positive. At the centre of the scandal was a two man operation, a small company that specialised in red mite control. The substance they sprayed was claimed to be a natural product, but the real efficacy came from the added fipronil. Of course this wasn’t communicated to the farmers, but the effects of the treatment were ‘too good to be true’.
Farmers faced with direct income loss due to the destroyed eggs and those confronted with cost claims made during the recall, are close to ruin. Keeping them afloat is priority number one, the second focus is to prevent such a crisis from happening again in the future. Continuously safeguarding production, documenting and auditing every step in the production chain is key. In food production, there is no place for good faith. The stakes with products in a worldwide market are just too high. It is only by chance the insecticide used wasn’t harmful to human health, at least not in the dosages found in the tainted eggs.