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expert reaction to fipronil-contaminated egg scandal in Europe

Experts react to the developing news story that some eggs contaminated with fipronil reached the UK earlier this year.

 

Prof Chris Elliott, Chair of Food Safety, Queen’s University Belfast, said:

“The fipronil scandal continues to grow – more affected farms, flocks and indeed countries.  I predict more revelations are still to come.  There is a growing impact in the UK despite no evidence of any wrong doing in the UK poultry industry.  Quite a large number of food products are now being recalled as a precautionary measure due to the 700,000 contaminated eggs that have been imported from mainland Europe.  As more information is passed to the FSA in the UK from their counterparts across Europe they may be a need to extend these recalls.  The likelihood of any related food illnesses from consuming contaminated products in extremely low.”

 

Prof Alan Boobis, Professor of Biochemical Pharmacology, Imperial College London, said:

“Fipronil has been found in egg in some processed foods in the UK.  However, even at the highest level found, consumption of one or two egg-containing meals in a day would not exceed levels considered acceptable by EFSA.

“Even when taken deliberately at 10,000 times the maximum amount likely to be consumed from contaminated eggs, the individuals survived with no long term harm.

“EFSA and the FSA are monitoring the situation carefully.  Based on the extent of contamination found and the number of such eggs that have reached the UK market, there is no reason for consumers to be concerned.”

 

Dr Michael Walker, a food standards consultant and expert to the Elliott Review, said:

“I welcome the FSA precautionary approach to safeguarding consumers and responsible businesses by withdrawals of some products using eggs in the shell, such as boiled eggs used in sandwiches potentially affected by the fipronil episode.  My question for the risk assessors is: what work has been done to ensure liquid egg products, widely used in baked goods, are not implicated?  And if they are is testing being carried out widely enough to identify any problems?”

 

Comments issued on Tuesday 8 August:

Prof Chris Elliott, Chair of Food Safety, Queen’s University Belfast, said:

“There is no evidence that this will impact human health in any way.

“There are suggestions this may be food fraud – police across Europe are involved in the investigation.  It is escalating in scale and may cross many more countries in Europe before the scandal is over.

“It has the potential to be the largest recall of eggs in history.

“The information available suggests the amount of produce that has come into the UK is minimal, but this may change as more information becomes available if the scandal widens.

“The misuse of the compound in question seems to have been very well organised, widely orchestrated and has been going on for quite a period of time.  The compound, fipronil, is a broad spectrum insecticide.  There is European-wide regulation that states it should not be used in any food-producing animal.”

 

Declared interests

Prof Chris Elliott: “No declarations of interest.”

Prof Alan Boobis: “I have no financial interest in fipronil.  I am involved in a number of collaborations that are developing generic risk assessment methodology, including ILSI HESI, ILSI Europe, WHO IPCS.  This work is not remunerated.  I am also chair of the UK COT and a member of the WHO/FAO JECFA (veterinary residues) and JMPR, the last having reviewed fipronil in the past.”

Dr Michael Walker: “The views expressed here are those personally of Michael Walker and do not represent the official views of LGC.

Interests: Paid employment or self-employment – I science manage technical appeals to the Government Chemist on the results of official controls in the food and feed sectors, am Training Officer for the Association of Public Analysts, sit on the IFST Science Committee and analytical allergen detection research in the publically funded Government Chemist Programme in LGC, https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/government-chemist.

Grant funding – see above.

I am a chemico-legal expert witness in the Northern Ireland courts.

Voluntary appointments – Chair FSA in NI Strategic Food Surveillance Committee.

Memberships – Michael Walker Consulting Ltd is a corporate member of Anaphylaxis Campaign, Michael Walker is a member of the European Academy of Allergy & Clinical Immunology.

Decision-making positions – none directly relevant.

Other financial interest – none.”

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