The egg-contamination scandal sweeping across Europe will hurt trade from the Netherlands, the region’s top exporter, and may spur other countries to increase domestic production, according to Chris Elliott, director of the Institute for Global Food Security.
Worries about eggs tainted with the insecticide fipronil have led supermarkets in Germany, the UK and Switzerland to pull fresh eggs, deli-filler and egg sandwiches off the shelves. The incidents were first reported in the Netherlands and Belgium, and public prosecutors have opened investigations.
“This scam is a disaster for the egg and food industry in the Netherlands, and they will struggle to retain market share due to the loss of trust, and this will give a good opportunity to rivals to capture their market share,” Elliott, a professor at Queen’s University Belfast, said in an interview. “It could also lead to countries turning to promote domestic egg production in their own countries, rather than rely on imports.”
The Netherlands exported €502 million ($591 million) of fresh, cooked and preserved eggs in 2016 – more than double the amount from Germany, the number-two seller, according to data from Eurostat.
The European Commission plans to have a high-level meeting on 26 September to discuss how to improve food-safety issues and deal with food fraud.
“The most important thing it implies is that the challenges to food security are only going to increase,” said Elliott.
Contaminated products have been detected as far as Switzerland, Hong Kong and Austria. In the UK, as many as 700,000 tainted eggs were likely imported, the Food Standards Agency said in a statement on 10 August.
Products will be withdrawn due to the chemical’s unauthorised status, rather than a specific safety concern. Processed food products are likely to have been affected, including salads and sandwiches made by Sainsbury's, Morrisons, and Walmart’s Asda.
The contaminated eggs are likely to have been mixed with non-contaminated eggs, diluting the amount of fipronil that could be consumed. It is “very unlikely” that there is any risk to public health, the FSA said.
The World Health Organization classifies fipronil as 'moderately hazardous', and it can cause nausea and dizziness if consumed in large quantities.
“The situation is constantly evolving, and it is possible that we will identify more implicated products as our investigations continue,” the FSA said in a recent statement.
News by Bloomberg, additional reporting by ESM. Click subscribe to sign up to ESM: The European Supermarket Magazine.