MEPs have called for a faster alert system and fines for states that fail to share food safety information following the tainted eggs scandal.
Members of the European Parliament's Agriculture and Rural Development Committee urged the European Commission (EC) to strengthen the European Rapid Alert System (RASFF), which showed failures during crisis.
During a debate prompted by the scandal, in which millions of eggs were found to be contaminated with pesticide, concerns were raised about why an alert was only made in July— a month after sampling took place – and how the use of fipronil had gone undetected since last year.
Clara Aguilera, Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats MEP, criticised member states for the delays in notification and said the European Union (EU) must improve information sharing on food safety.
“There is a big serious problem and there are failures in the RASFF,” she said.
“States have acted late, have taken months to communicate and that has also generating internal disputes. Questions have to be raised about the operation of the system and those questions should be investigated.”
As reported by SM last month, Fipronil is commonly used by veterinarians to get rid of fleas, lice and ticks from animals but is banned by the EU from use in the food chain as it can harm people’s kidneys, liver and thyroid glands when eaten in large quantities, according the World Health Organisation.
The issue has sparked a row between Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, the three countries at the centre of the crisis, about how long officials knew about the problem.
Belgium has accused the Netherlands of having detected contaminated eggs as far back as November 2016 but keeping it quiet. The Netherlands has said it was tipped off about the use of fipronil in pens but did not know it was in eggs.
Belgium meanwhile has admitted it knew about fipronil in eggs in early June 2017 but kept it secret because of a fraud investigation.
The EC said it became aware of contaminated eggs on 20 July when Belgian authorities informed all member states through RASFF. So far, 22 EU member states have been affected, as well as other European countries Switzerland, Norway and Liechtenstein.
It has also been detected in nine non-European countries including Hong Kong, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, bringing the total of affected countries to 34.
Diane Dodds, Democratic Unionist Party MEP, suggested fines for EU states that failed share crucial safety information.
“It appears that there was a significant time lag from when the problem was first known in the member state and the notification of the problem to the RASFF,” she said.
“[The Commission] must ensure that there are appropriate sanctions for those managing authorities that allowed such practices in their jurisdictions.”
Millions of chicken eggs have been withdrawn and all farms where products containing fipronil have been used have been blocked from placing potentially tainted products on the market. Most of these farms are in the Netherlands and Belgium.
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