Foreword Vol.3 Nr.1

Four years ago the EU food market was hit by the fipronil scandal. The epicenter was in the Netherlands, the EU’s largest egg exporter. Contaminated eggs were found in almost every European country. In this issue, we will revisit this case because there is still much to learn from it.

The US perspective was enlightening: “The case appears to be more of an economic fraud issue and failure of the EU-wide food safety system than a food safety and a health risk concern” (USDA GAIN Report 14.08.2017). To some extent, they were probably right. The EU bans many pharmaceutical or phyto-pharmaceutical products and establishes very low regulatory limits but what are the consequences of this system? Farmers cannot afford to lose portions of their crops or their meat, egg, or milk production to weeds, insects, or disease. As a result, the illegal use of chemicals is actually not rare. Nor is pesticide fraud.

The fipronil case just revealed how widespread these practices are. The “system” – everyone from veterinarians to auditors to the management of one of the most important food safety authorities in the EU – was hiding it or actively looking the other way. NVWA, whose premises are not far from the company that was spreading fipronil in poultry farms, decided to act only when Belgium asked to inspect them. In theory, we are super protected in the EU, but in practice it is not the case. We ate fipronil-contaminated eggs for about 2 years. Even organic eggs had fipronil inside them. Many food products (e.g. mayonnaise) were fipronil-contaminated, too. Experts calculated that our exposure was below the risk threshold. I agree that it was MORE a fraud than a food safety case, but we were not so far from. I would call it a triple fraud.

Farmers were cheated, but consumers were, too, because their taxes fund a food safety system that closed its eyes to what was happening. When rules are too strict and complicated, this is what happens. The red mite became resistant to less toxic and less persistent chemicals and developing new drugs is too expensive and takes too long, so what could farmers do?

If fipronil did not harm consumers even when it was used illegally, could we allow the controlled, managed use of fipronil or other chemicals? If we do not, every other year we risk another predictable fipronil case. If we do not want this, what do we do? Do we want clean meat, milk, and egg production? Production that is as good for the environment as it is for us? How? Instead of banning more drugs and pesticides we must stop supporting intensive farming, if not forbid it outright. Do we want to lead in making the world greener? Do we really want to fight antibiotic resistance? Do we really want to pursue animal welfare? Let’s close factory farms.

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