Eggs contaminated with insecticide found in Italy

ROME - Fipronil, the insecticide considered ‘moderately toxic’ to humans by the World Health Organisation, has arrived in Italy. The Italian Ministry of Health has noted that ‘two positives have been detected’, found in two small establishments: an egg packaging centre in the Marche region, and an artisanal pasta manufacturer’s, who used egg in their ingredients, in Lazio. 

 Fipronil (or fluocyanobenpyrazole) is a commonly used insecticide against fleas, mites and ticks in pet animals, but is prohibited in animals destined for the food chain, such as chickens. It is highly toxic to mice, bees, rabbits and some bird species. Exposure to it may cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and seizures. If consumed in large quantities it can cause damage to the kidneys, liver and thyroid. Experts are, however, in agreement that the health risks are very low because the effects of intoxication occur only in high dose exposures. Symptoms are reversible when exposure is complete, but he substance absorbs slowly through the intestine, and no specific antidote is known.

 According to the Ministry, it was ‘reported to the ASL,’ part of Italy’s national health service. Giuseppe Ruocco, director of Hygiene at the Ministry of Health, said: ‘Even if it exceeds the limit, the presence of fipronil is far below the acute toxicity threshold,’ therefore excluding any worries for human health. 

 In Lombardy, meanwhile, some frozen omelettes were removed from the shelves following checks carried out by the Metropolitan City of Milan in collaboration with the police. Given that this is a substance that should not be present in foods, Ruocco added that ‘the batches where the samples have been found positive have been retrieved and ongoing investigations are underway to trace the origin of the contamination chain.’  

 Whilst in Marche the sample was found in egg shells, in Lazio it was found in more general egg products, such as pasteurized eggs used for the preparation of other food products. Lombardy’s welfare councillor Giulio Gallera, states that ‘the Atsuyaki Tamago sample, the product name distributed by German company Kagerr, and distributed in Italy by International Trade Group, ‘concerns 127 packages (which all have Feb 16 2018 as their sell-by date), 117 of which have already been distributed to the consumer. We have already been given the order, as in current legislation, to expose the cartels within the business, to inform users and to arrange for withdrawal if the product has not yet been consumed. We have already been given the order, as in current legislation, to display these boxes within the business, to inform users and to arrange for withdrawal if the product has not yet been consumed.’ 

 Ruocco, stated that it is one of six reports of products packaged abroad and marketed in Italy received by the department of health. People are becoming worried. "We want to know the origin of the eggs," says Agostino Macrì, Head of the Food Safety Section of the National Consumer Union. 'It is important to know whether the eggs were imported or national, because in the latter case it would mean that the problem may not only concern foreign eggs.’

 Roberto Moncalvo, President of Coldiretti, Italy’s farmer’s union, has called for company names and all products involved to be immediately published. ‘In the face of emerging health emergencies from abroad, we need to intervene immediately with the transparency of information to avoid panics that damage businesses and consumers’ said Moncalvo. He adds that the ‘scandal of eggs contaminated with insecticide and marketed in Europe only concerns imports from abroad. Italian eggs can be recognised as there is an indication of origin on each shell,’ although, he continues, ‘the visibility should be improved by clearly writing in full, on the packaging, where they come from.’

 On the shell of the eggs there is a code that, with the first number, can be traced back to the type of breeding (0 for organic, 1 for outdoors, 2 for on soil, 3 for in cages) The second symbol indicates the country of origin (eg IT), followed by the code of the municipality, the stamp of the Province and finally the breeder's code. Italy produces 12.9 billion eggs, produced by 41.6 million hens in 1.600 farms, enough for everyone, according to Coldiretti, ‘Italy imported 610,000 kilos of eggs in the first five months of 2017, while foods sold as pastes and sweets made with eggs at risk are not quantifiable.’