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Tainted EU egg goods found in 17 countries

By Lorne Cook

The European Union plans to hold an extraordinary meeting late next month over a growing tainted egg scandal as it revealed that products contaminated with an insecticide have now been identified in 17 countries.

Millions of eggs have been destroyed or pulled from supermarket shelves since July 20, when it was made public that the pesticide Fipronil, which is dangerous to human health, was found mixed with another treatment, known as Dega 16, sprayed on chickens for ticks, fleas and lice.

Almost all lab tests show that only very low levels of Fipronil -seven to 10 times lower than the maximum permitted - have been detected in eggs from the treated chickens, although one test in Belgium was above the European limit.

Poisoning by small doses has few effects and requires little treatment. Heavy and prolonged exposure can damage the kidneys and liver or cause seizures.

The scandal has caused major political fallout, with neighbours Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany squabbling over who is to blame, and who knew what and when.

Poultry farmers have been hardest hit, and are blaming the chemical industry for compromising their business and exposing consumers to danger.

The EU's executive Commission said last night that contaminated eggs have been found at producers in four countries; Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands.

Eggs or egg products from those producers have reached Austria, Britain, Denmark, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia and Sweden, as well as Switzerland and Hong Kong outside the EU.

The Commission announced it is aiming to hold talks between EU ministers and food safety agencies concerned on September 26.

"The aim is to draw the relevant lessons and discuss the ways to continuously improve the effectiveness of the EU system to deal with food fraud," Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said.

She said the EU's "priority remains to manage the situation, to continue to coordinate and to reassure our citizens".

In France, Agriculture Minister Stephane Travert said that tests on imported eggs contaminated with pesticide show no risk to public health.

German Agriculture Ministry spokeswoman Jennifer Reinhard said on Friday "the facts need to be swiftly and fully investigated".

"Information needs to be shared between (EU) member states without delay," Ms Reinhard said.

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