At least 17 countries have been hit with the European egg scandal involving insecticide contamination. Ground zero of the problem has not been definitively identified, as Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany are reportedly pointing fingers over which country is to blame and how long they knew about the problem. Dutch authorities may have known about the problem as far back as November 2016.
The eggs have been tainted with the pesticide Fipronil, doses of which are not harmful to humans engaging in short-term consumption. When consumed in large doses, it can cause damage to the kidneys, liver and thyroid glands.
Farmers in the Netherlands used a company, Chickfriend, to delouse their chickens, but this company reportedly mixed fipronil into the cleaning solution and could have contaminated nearly 180 farms in the country as a result, according to The New York Times. As many as 20% of Dutch egg-laying chickens could be affected. Chickfriend was recently raided by authorities and two of its directors were arrested. Antwerp-based Poultry-Vision stated that it provided Chickfriend with fipronil via a source in Romania, according to The Guardian.
Contaminated eggs, which have been distributed to at least 17 countries (mainly in Europe) have also been found at producers in Belgium, France and Germany, and as a result, millions of eggs have either been destroyed or removed from store shelves.
Food fraud is a recognized threat to the quality of food ingredients and finished food products. There are also instances where food fraud presents a safety risk to consumers, such as when perpetrators add hazardous substances to foods (e.g., melamine in milk, industrial dyes in spices, known allergens, etc.).
The tables in Appendix 1 include 17 food categories and are presented in three series:
Information that you should consider for potential food-related biological hazards
Information that you should consider for potential food-related chemical hazards
Information that you should consider for potential process-related hazards
According to the FDA draft guidance, chemical hazards can include undeclared allergens, drug residues, heavy metals, industrial chemicals, mycotoxins/natural toxins, pesticides, unapproved colors and additives, and radiological hazards.
USP develops tools and resources that help ensure the quality and authenticity of food ingredients and, by extension, manufactured food products. More importantly, however, these same resources can help ensure the safety of food products by reducing the risk of fraudulent adulteration with hazardous substances.
Data from food fraud records from sources such as USP’s Food Fraud Database (USP FFD) contain important information related to potential chemical hazards and should be incorporated into manufacturers’ hazard analyses. USP FFD currently has data directly related to the identification of six of the chemical hazards identified by FDA: Undeclared allergens, drug residues, heavy metals, industrial chemicals, pesticides, and unapproved colors and additives. The following are some examples of information found in food fraud records for these chemical hazards.
Undeclared allergens: In addition to the widely publicized incident of peanuts in cumin, peanut products can be fraudulently added to a variety of food ingredients, including ground hazelnuts, olive oils, ground almonds, and milk powder. There have also been reports of the presence of cow’s milk protein in coconut-based beverages.
Drug residues:Seafood and honey have repeatedly been fraudulently adulterated with antibiotics that are not permitted for use in foods. Recently, beef pet food adulterated with pentobarbital was recalled in the United States.
Heavy metals:Lead, often in the form of lead chromate or lead oxide which add color to spices, is a persistent problem in the industry, particularly with turmeric.
Industrial Chemicals: Industrial dyes have been associated with a variety of food products, including palm oil, chili powder, curry sauce, and soft drinks. Melamine was added to both milk and wheat gluten to fraudulently increase the apparent protein content and industrial grade soybean oil sold as food-grade oil caused the deaths of thousands of turkeys.
Pesticides: Fraud in organic labeling has been in the news recently. Also concerning is the detection of illegal pesticides in foods such as oregano due to fraudulent substitution with myrtle or olive leaves.
Unapproved colors/additives: Examples include undeclared sulfites in unrefined cane sugar and ginger, food dyes in wine, and tartrazine (Yellow No. 5) in tea powder.
In the category of publicly available policies on reducing or eliminating pesticides in order to protect pollinators, only Aldi, Costco and Whole Foods received passing grades.
“U.S. food retailers must take responsibility for how the products they sell are contributing to the bee crisis,” said Tiffany Finck-Haynes, food futures campaigner with Friends of the Earth, in a press release. “The majority of the food sold at top U.S. food retailers is produced with pollinator-toxic pesticides. According to Friends of the Earth, neonicotinoids (insecticides) are a leading cause of pollinator declines, while glyphosate (the most widely used herbicide) has been tied to monarch butterfly declines.
“To protect pollinators, we must eliminate pollinator-toxic pesticides from our farming systems and expand pollinator-friendly organic agriculture,” said Dr. Kendra Klein, staff scientist at FOE. “Organic farms support 50% more pollinator species than conventional farms. This is a huge opportunity for American farmers. Less than one percent of total U.S. farmland is in organic production — farmers need the support of food retailers to help them transition dramatically more acreage to organic.”
In conducting the report, FOE mainly used publicly available information sources such as company websites and annual reports, SEC filings, corporate social responsibility and sustainability reports, press coverage, and other forms of industry analysis.
A group of industry stakeholders in sustainable agriculture, environmental, beekeeper and public interest groups are call for reform at the USDA. In a letter sent to Doug Banner, scientific integrity officer at USDA yesterday, the coalition of more than 50 organizations ask for reforms to the agency’s scientific integrity policy. “The agency must prohibit suppression and alteration of scientific findings, employ clear and enforceable procedures for conducting loss of scientific integrity investigations, assure transparency and consistency in the administration of policies, adopt strong protections for scientists who file misconduct complaints, and participate in misconduct investigations when scientists and their work face interference. These actions are needed to ensure that USDA scientists can properly do their jobs.”
A recent article in The Washington Post details the story of USDA Entomologist and whistleblower Jonathan Lundgren, who has attributed the rapid decline in honeybees to the overuse of pesticides and the lack of crop diversity. Lundgren filed a whistleblower suit last fall, claiming he was suspended to prevent his research on the harmful effects of pesticides on pollinators.
According to a news release from Friends of the Earth: “An internal scientific integrity review panel at the USDA recently rejected the complaint of scientific suppression by Lundgren, claiming that agency had not violated its scientific integrity policies. In February 2016, USDA Inspector General Phyllis Fong said the USDA will open a broad investigation into the issue of scientific censorship, but did not specify whether the investigation would be made publicly available.”
The USDA, which outlines its scientific integrity policy on its website, has not released a public statement addressing the coalition’s letter.