Dutch count massive cost of tainted-eggs scare

The Hague - Dutch farmers and retailers on Monday were counting the costs stemming from the tainted-eggs scandal that swept Europe, saying the total ran into tens of millions as two men at the scandal's centre were due to appear in court.

"The damage is at least around $176m so far," said Mark de Jong, spokesperson for the ZLTO federation of southern Dutch farmers and gardeners.

"It depends how quickly we can get through this crisis, but it may still go up," said de Jong, whose organisation represents about 15 000 farmers and gardeners, many of them in the poultry sector.

"Damages for supermarket chains have run into tens of millions of euros," added Rene Roorda, director of the CBL federation of retailers, whose members include giant supermarket groups including Albert Heijn, Aldi, Lidl and Jumbo.

"We had to pull eggs from the shelves in 4 000 supermarkets. Millions of eggs had to be destroyed," Roorda told the national ANP newswire.

"We are doing everything we can to restore consumer's confidence," Roorda added, without going into details.

Fipronil fallout

While untainted eggs were back on the shelves in many shops across the country, Dutch farmers told AFP they were still dealing with the fallout over eggs that were found to contain the insecticide fipronil.

Millions of eggs have been pulled from supermarket shelves and destroyed across Europe and dozens of poultry farms closed since the discovery of contamination with fipronil, which can harm human health, was made public on August 1.

Iris Odink-Schrijver, treasurer of the Dutch Poultry Farmers' Union, told AFP it had not yet estimated the damages.

"At this point we're still cleaning our chicken pens, hoping to finally rid them of fipronil," she said.

The offices of Sovimo, one of five egg production companies, which has imported eggs containing fipronil. (Philippe Huguen/AFP)

Meanwhile, two men aged 31 and 24 were to make an initial appearance before a judge in the central Zwolle district court on Tuesday in connection with the case, a spokeswoman for the public prosecutor's office said.

The men are said to be the owners of Chickfriend, a Dutch company based in the central Netherlands which was hired by farmers to treat chicken pens to eradicate parasitic red lice.

"The men are to appear in a closed hearing before a judge who will have to decide if they will remain in custody for longer," the spokesperson, Marieke van der Molen, told AFP.

'No health risks'

Eggs tainted with fipronil have been discovered in 17 European countries since the scandal came to light, and have also been found as far afield as Hong Kong.

Austria on Monday became the latest European country to confirm that it had found the insecticide in egg products imported from Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Poland.

Of 80 random samples including baked goods and mayonnaise, 18 revealed tiny traces of the chemical, according to the country's Agency for Health and Food Safety (AGES).

But it said the detected quantities were negligible and "there are no health risks".

Commonly used to get rid of fleas, lice and ticks from animals, fipronil is banned by the European Union from use in the food industry.

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.

The European Commission is due to hold a meeting about the contamination in September.

Belgium became the first country to officially notify the EU's food safety alert system about the presence of tainted eggs on July 20, followed by the Netherlands and Germany.

But the discovery was not made public until August 1.

The EU insists there is no threat to humans, but the World Health Organisation says that when eaten in large quantities it can harm people's kidneys, liver and thyroid glands.

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