August 5, 2017 / 6:31 PM / 2 years ago

Germany concerned Belgium withheld data about contaminated eggs

BERLIN/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - German Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt on Saturday expressed concern about news that Belgian authorities first learned about the possible contamination of eggs with an insecticide in June, a month before the issue became public.

An egg is pictured in this illustration photo in Berlin, Germany, August 4, 2017. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke/Illustration Photo

Schmidt planned to call his Belgian counterpart on Monday to discuss the current situation and “particularly the new information,” a ministry spokesman said.

“Agriculture Minister Schmidt would have expected notification from officials in Belgium in a timely and comprehensive manner,” the spokesman said.

Millions of eggs have been pulled from supermarkets in Germany and the Netherlands in a widening scandal over possible contamination by the insecticide fipronil that has triggered investigations by prosecutors in Belgium and the Netherlands, and the temporary shutdown of some poultry farms.

The issue has drawn widespread attention in Germany and discount supermarket chain Aldi on Friday said it was withdrawing all eggs from sale at its more than 4,000 stores in Germany as a precaution.

The Belgian food safety agency this week said it first learned of the issue at the start of June when one poultry company alerted them to the fact that they had found elevated levels of the insecticide fipronil in its products.

The World Health Organisation considers fipronil to be moderately toxic and says very large quantities can cause damage to the kidneys, liver and lymph glands.

Schmidt was responding to a report on Belgian broadcaster VRT which cited the food safety agency as saying it had not disclosed the possible contamination because it was investigating possible fraud.

A spokeswoman for the Belgian food agency said she could not provide further information as Belgian law prohibits commenting on judicial investigations.

While some individual producers have been blocked, Belgium has not recalled eggs from supermarket shelves as the levels of fipronil found were far below legal limits.

Blocked companies may only restart selling eggs if they can show that no more fipronil is found in their products.

A spokeswoman for the European Commission on Friday said the case was under investigation by Belgian and Dutch prosecutors.

She said the Belgian public prosecutor had opened a criminal investigation against the Belgian poultry service provider that is suspected of adding the substance to his products. Belgium has also opened a case on the EU Food Fraud Network asking assistance from the Netherlands.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal and Robert-Jan Bartunek; Editing by Stephen Powell

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