Aldi has removed and destroyed all eggs from its shelves in Germany over an insecticide scandal stemming from the Netherlands.
German supermarkets Aldi, along with REWE, Penny and Lidl, had already pulled Dutch eggs from their stores in the last few days after the German government announced that at least 3m eggs tainted with a toxic insecticide had made their way to Germany and been sold.
However, regional agriculture minister Christian Meyer of Lower Saxony, said that it is now believed 10m contaminated eggs might have reached Germany, prompting Aldi to become the first major retailer to stop the sale of eggs altogether regardless of origin.
The supermarket giant said it was making the move “purely as precaution” but acknowledged it could lead to “market shortages” for eggs in the country as the impact of the issue widened.
The Netherlands Food and Consumer Products Authority said the situation is believed to have begun in June when the toxic insecticide Fipronil was discovered in an egg farm in Belgium. It then spread to the Netherlands in July when seven poultry farms were found to be tainted with the insecticide.
The Dutch authorities added that one poultry service company, Chickfriend, which treats hens against blood lice, had visited all the infected Dutch and Belgian farms.
Fipronil is commonly used in veterinary products to get rid of fleas, lice and ticks but is banned in treating animals that are part of the human food chain in the EU.
In large quantities, the insecticide is considered to be “moderately hazardous” and can have dangerous effect on people’s kidneys, liver and thyroid glands, according to the World Health Organisation.
Marieke van der Molen, spokesperson for the Dutch public prosecutors office, said since the discovery, around 180 Dutch farms had been temporarily shut down and a criminal investigation had been opened to determine the source of the contamination.
The Netherlands has almost 1,000 lay hen factory farms producing 11bn eggs a year, of which more than half are exported, mainly to Germany, according to the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture.
With losses expected to run into millions of euros, it is another blow for Dutch poultry farmers after 190,000 ducks were culled in November last year amid a highly infectious strain of bird flu.
Van der Molen added that Dutch poultry farmers caught up in the scandal have appealed for government support as they are set to lose thousands of euros each day if their eggs can not be sold.
Belgium’s Federal Agency for Food Chain Security announced that they had also launched a criminal probe in cooperation with prosecutors.
The German Farmers’ Association said Aldi’s decision to take eggs of the shelf was “an excessive reaction at this point”.
Hennie de Haan, chairwoman of Dutch poultry farmers' trade union NVP, said: “We hope we can win back the trust of German consumers very quickly, otherwise this disaster will be immeasurable,” she said.