Thousands of salads and sandwiches are being taken off store shelves in a tainted eggs scare.
Four big supermarkets are withdrawing the products on the orders of the Food Standards Agency.
The watchdog had claimed only 21,000 of the danger eggs had been imported from Europe. It insisted there was no health risk and refused to name the affected retailers.
Yesterday however it admitted the true figure was much higher – potentially 700,000 – and confirmed the eggs had been used by Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Asda. Contaminated with pesticide, the eggs went to factories making sandwich fillings, sandwiches, salad bowls and pots containing boiled eggs.
A huge number of eggs were destroyed at a chicken farm in Nadrin, Houffalize, on August 9
The problem was identified last November but watchdogs on the Continent failed to issue a Europe-wide food recall.
That means many of the tainted products are likely to have been eaten already.
UK egg producers criticised supermarkets and suppliers for using cheap imports.
They said it was ‘double standards’ to put British eggs on shelves while using foreign ones in processed food.
The pesticide in question – fipronil – is moderately toxic according to scientists but can cause organ damage when taken in large quantities.
It appears to have entered the food chain through its use in clearing mite infestations on Dutch farms. Police in the Netherlands yesterday announced the arrests of two men in connection with the illegal use of the chemical.
HOW HARMFUL IS FIPRONIL?
Reported adverse effects from consumption of Fipronil include sweating, nausea, vomiting, head and stomach pain, dizziness and seizures, according to the US National Pesticide Information Centre.
It is understood the egg contamination was picked up by the authorities in the Netherlands in November and then again by watchdogs in Belgium in June. It was not until last week that a Europe-wide food safety alert was issued with the result that millions of fresh eggs were removed from shelves in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and other states.
The UK recall was ordered only when the full scale of imports emerged.
Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University in London, said: ‘This seems to be a failure of the rapid alert system. It is astonishing. Perhaps the Dutch and Belgians thought what they found were isolated incidents. Perhaps they were scared witless.’
Ian Jones, chairman of British Lion eggs, said: ‘The major retailers are operating to double standards when it comes to eggs. All of them stock British Lion shell eggs but they use imported eggs in many of their other foods containing eggs.
Around 700,000 eggs from Dutch farms implicated in a contamination scare have been distributed to Britain – a figure far higher than the previously estimated 21,000 (stock image)
Pictured: Examples of the thousands of egg products that are being taken off shelves by leading supermarkets
‘This is just the latest of a number of food safety issues connected to eggs produced outside of the UK in recent years. Consumers clearly want retailers and food manufacturers to use good quality British ingredients that are produced to high standards of food safety, but in some prepared foods this is not the case.’
Previous problems include salmonella food poisoning outbreaks caused by cheap eggs from Germany and Spain.
The FSA claims it acted quickly once it was alerted to the fipronil problem. ‘It is very unlikely that these eggs pose a risk to public health, but as fipronil is unauthorised for use in food-producing animals we have acted with urgency to ensure that consumers are protected,’ it said.
Ian Jones, chairman of British Lion eggs, said: ‘The major retailers are operating to double standards when it comes to eggs’
LIST OF EGG PRODUCTS BEING WITHDRAWN IN PESTICIDE CONTAMINATION ALERT
Product – Pack size – Use-by dates
By Sainsbury’s Ham and Egg Salad – 240g – August 9-14
By Sainsbury’s Potato and Egg Salad – 300g – August 9-14
Morrisons Potato and Egg Salad – 250g – August 13
Morrisons Egg and Cress Sandwich – Sold in Morrisons Cafe only – August 11
Morrisons Cafe Sandwich Selection – Sold in Morrisons Cafe only – August 11
Waitrose Free Range Egg Mayonnaise Deli Filler – 240g – August 13 and 16
Waitrose Free Range Reduced Fat Egg Mayonnaise Deli filler – 170g – August 14
Waitrose Free Range Egg and Bacon Deli Filler – 170g – August 14
Waitrose Free Range Egg and Bacon Deli Filler – 170g – August 16
Waitrose Free Range Egg Mayonnaise Deli Filler – 240g – August 16
Asda Baby potato and free range egg salad – N/A – August 9-14
Asda Spinach and free range egg snack pot – N/A – August 9-14
Heather Hancock, the watchdog’s chairman, added: ‘The number of eggs involved is small in proportion to the number of eggs we eat, and it is very unlikely that there is a risk to public health.
‘Based on the available evidence there is no need for people to change the way they consume or cook eggs. However, fipronil is not legally allowed for use near food-producing animals and it shouldn’t be there.’ The Food and Drink Federation, which speaks for manufacturers, said: ‘The decision to withdraw products is not due to food safety concerns, but is based on the fact that fipronil is not authorised for use in food-producing animals.
‘As the FSA have said, it is unlikely that foods made with contaminated eggs are of any risk to public health.’
ARE BRITISH EGGS SAFE TO EAT?
While in some European countries eggs containing Fipronil residues have been sold as fresh eggs, in the UK this is not the case.
The Food Standards Agency said it had no evidence that eggs laid in the UK are contaminated or that Fipronil has been used inappropriately in the UK.
Testing of eggs on farms is under way across the UK and results to date for England and Wales show no exposure to Fipronil.
A spokesman for the British Egg Industry Council said: ‘British egg producers have reiterated the need for consumers and food producers to look for British Lion eggs and egg products, following the Food Standards Agency (FSA) announcement that some processed foods are being withdrawn from sale as they may have been made with non-UK eggs contaminated with Fipronil.
‘Fipronil is banned for use around food-producing animals in the EU.
‘All major UK retailers stock British Lion shell eggs and tests have shown that there is no risk from British eggs.’