Financial losses stemming from the fipronil egg scandal have cost the Dutch poultry industry more than €66m with a number of farmers facing bankruptcy. However, retailed costs have yet to be tallied.
The final total is set to be considerably higher as supermarket chains across the country’s food industry have said they will make claims against farmers, although details are still scarce.
Eric Hubers, president of the Dutch poultry organisation LTO/NOP, told International Egg Commission delegates in Bruges on Monday that as a result some farmers would face being declared bankrupt.
“Financial losses in the Netherlands stood at €33m in mid-August. That has doubled at least by now and doesn’t include claims from supermarkets, who have said they will claim all their costs back from the farmers. No farmers knows how much but some will be left bankrupt.”
Mr Hubers said he had not slept for the last 6 weeks because of having to deal with the fall-out of the crisis, which he added had been totally unexpected.
He told delegates that around 200 Dutch egg farmers, covering around a 5th of production, had unwittingly used the product, while producers in Belgium and Germany had also mistakenly used the treatment to combat poultry red mite.
And he was critical of the Belgian and Dutch authorities for failing to act faster, saying there had been an anonymous tip off last November.
“At the time, they didn’t think it was a serious problem,” he said.
When the Belgian authorities requested action by Dutch officials, it was done under the auspices of a criminal rather than a food safety investigation.
Mr Hubers acknowledged he was surprised by the level of international media attention, but said it had allowed the industry to stress that farmers were not to blame.
But he was critical of a senior Dutch food safety official for the choice of words over being able to guarantee the safety of eggs on supermarket shelves, which led to a short-lived but dramatic 36% slump in sales.
“They have recovered very quickly, surprisingly. Consumers forget quickly and we and toxicologists were able to get our messages across on television. Toxicologists said there was no health risk.”
While there are regulations in Belgium allowing government financial support to cover producer losses for the 1.5m birds culled, the Dutch authorities have no plan to compensate.
As a result, Dutch producers face the difficult decision over whether to cull birds or continue knowing they need to produce samples of eggs, birds and manure before they are released from the current ban on selling products. There is also a shortage of laying hens in the country.
Accepting there had been criticism that poultry red mite control had not been part of the Netherlands Quality Eggs Scheme requirements, he said it needed to be updated and would lead to a better quality scheme. Including all external factors and better monitoring were also lessons learned from the saga.