The news of the Fipronil-contaminated eggs – made public on 1 August – had generated ripples of consumer anxiety across the globe. The contamination, originating from Dutch farms, have since then been reported in 17 countries.

The Netherlands is the global leader in egg exports, with the majority of these eggs heading to Germany. Fortunately, the doses of Fipronil found in most of the contaminated eggs are not enough to harm consumers.

Nonetheless, this has already created a scare in many parts of the world.

Barely two weeks since the news was reported, Hong Kong’s Centre for Food Safety (CFS) announced that it had detected unsafe levels of Fipronil on two samples of Dutch eggs on sale. The European Commission (EC) also said that Dutch farms that were confirmed to have insecticide-tainted eggs were known to have shipped products to Hong Kong.

How did Fipronil get into these eggs?

Fipronil is used in a variety of insect-control products for agricultural and domestic use. Used to kill insects by disrupting their central nervous system, Fipronil does not affect mammals – as some of the ion channels that it targets in insects are not present in mammals.

Fipronil, however, is not authorised to be used around or on food-producing animals. It can be absorbed through an animal’s skin – and if ingested, Fipronil can have toxic effects.

In the recent egg contamination case, Fipronil is believed to have been mixed into a cleaning agent to get rid of lice at poultry farms in the Netherlands and Belgium.

The use of Fipronil is already banned in the European Union (EU) food industry. A criminal investigation is ongoing to determine how Fipronil came to be used on chickens.

Health expert weighs in on recent contaminated egg scandal

While the EU assured that there is no threat to human health; the World Health Organisation (WHO) classifies Fipronil as “moderately toxic”.

When ingested by humans in large amounts, Fipronil can cause damage to the kidneys, liver and thyroid. But due to the lower amounts present in the contaminated eggs, there is unlikely a risk to public health. One would need to ingest a very large amount of contaminated eggs for it to be considered harmful to the body.

This is supported by toxicology expert Martin van den Berg from Utrecht University, in the Netherlands. He said that if we are eating a chicken that has eaten Fipronil, we also get meat or eggs with Fipronil in it.

However, the Fipronil concentration in these contaminated eggs does not pose a risk for acute or direct toxicity. He further explained that however, “we have to realise that if you eat it at a very high dose, or for example, have intoxication because somebody has eaten it on purpose, people in general recover fully, so [there is] no permanent damage.”

Children, however, should avoid eating contaminated eggs with high concentrations of Fipronil. This is because the chemical cannot be destroyed by cooking or frying, he elaborated.

The scandal had already sparked a row in the EU, finger-pointing over who is to blame. Investigations are still undergoing, with ministers and food safety chiefs expected to convene at the end of September. This is a developing story – we will provide the updates accordingly. MIMS

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