Austria finds some egg products contaminated with insecticide: Report

European eggs from Sweden up for sale in a supermarket in Hong Kong, China, on Aug 12, 2017.
European eggs from Sweden up for sale in a supermarket in Hong Kong, China, on Aug 12, 2017. PHOTO: EPA

VIENNA (Reuters) - Tests show that some imported egg products in Austria have been contaminated with a potentially harmful insecticide, a health ministry official told broadcaster ORF on Monday (Aug 14), adding to the list of countries affected by an international health scare.

Millions of chicken eggs have been pulled from European supermarket shelves as a result of the scare over the use of the insecticide fipronil, and hundreds of thousands of hens may be culled in the Netherlands.

"Three quarters of the tests are negative," health ministry official Ulrich Herzog told ORF radio, adding that 80 samples had been taken from different parts of the country.

"A quarter, however, were found to be positive in an initial investigation."

Only eight samples had been found to contain fipronil so far but further results were expected later on Monday, he said. ORF added, however, that the levels of fipronil found were roughly a tenth of those found in neighbouring Germany.

"There is no immediate health risk," Herzog said. ORF added that suppliers would be informed of the results so that contaminated products could be called back.

The health ministry was not immediately available for comment.

Some national regulators in Europe have voiced concern that many contaminated eggs have entered the food chain, mainly through processed products such as biscuits and cakes.

While a large amount of contaminated eggs would need to be eaten to show negative health effects, fipronil is considered moderately toxic and can cause organ damage in humans.

Fipronil is widely used to treat pets for ticks and fleas but its use in the food chain, for example to clean out barns, is forbidden in the European Union. Austria also bans its use on crops.

The Dutch authorities on Thursday arrested two directors of the company at the centre of the food safety scare, with prosecutors saying they suspected them of threatening public health and possession of a prohibited pesticide.

Fresh eggs sold in Austria are mostly produced within the country, and the health ministry had said last week there was no indication that the Austrian poultry industry had been affected by the contaminated egg scandal.

The first reports of suspected cases in Austria last week involved eggs that had been processed in Germany and then imported. "There is no indication so far that fipronil was detected in Austrian products, especially in fresh Austrian eggs," Herzog said.

Batches of possibly contaminated eggs from the Netherlands and Germany have been shipped to Sweden, Switzerland, France and Britain, EU filings showed earlier this month.