Egg contamination: 'No-one needs to be worried'

700,000 contaminated eggs imported into the UK but ‘No-one needs to be worried’ – states Heather Hancock - Chair of the Food Standards Agency

Trust in the integrity of the food supply chain is once again top of the news agenda as the Fipronil in eggs story hits the headlines. Heather Hancock was interviewed on Channel 4 News on Thursday 10th August 2017 and sought to reassure the public that this incident is not a breach of food safety standards and consumers are being informed as a matter of trust and openness.

In last week’s news, we were notified that a possible 21,000 eggs contaminated with Fipronil had entered the UK food supply chain from the Netherlands. However, since the weekend the Dutch authorities have informed the UK FSA that they now believe that closer to 700,000 eggs are implicated, which still represent a fraction of the 10 billion eggs consumed in the UK each year. However, Heather Hancock stated that the risk to human health was very small as it would be necessary for an individual to consume tens of thousands of these eggs to suffer any ill effects.

Following the furore over chlorinated chicken that we reported on earlier this week, this incident again raises concerns around consumer trust in the food supply chain. Already, these contaminated eggs are being likened to the horsemeat scandal with similarities relating to extended supply chains; food crossing borders and losing traceability, being sold ‘on the cheap’ and the issue not being about food safety standards which are said not to be compromised, but trust in the food supply chain. There are questions being asked both here and in Germany, as to why it has taken the Belgian authorities so long to notify both the public and the UK authorities with accusations of a cover-up. However, it is stated by the Dutch and Belgian authorities that a criminal investigation is underway to establish the motives of a Belgian supplier of insecticide who is alleged to have added this substance; that is banned from use in livestock and food production, to poultry cleaning systems to improve the efficacy of its product.

Whilst this incident is still being investigated it is difficult to draw lessons whilst we trace and track how these events have taken place but there are comparisons to previous scandals, in relation to food produced to a price point and not the highest quality standard. The imported eggs have been used to manufacture processed products, as they are cheaper than UK eggs which are produced under higher welfare standards.

It is encouraging that the FSA report they are working closely with industry and have received all the intelligence they need to trace the products implicated in this incident. However, it still leaves questions relating to trust along the whole supply chain especially where products cross borders and are subject to inputs from ancillary industries that may operate at different standards of food safety expected by retailers, manufacturers and enforcement bodies.

If you want to learn more about global food supply chains take a look at courses on Agri-Food Value Chains, or Agrifood Supply Chain Strategy, Operations and Management.

Deborah Kendale, Business Development and Marketing Manager, AFTP

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