The European Union said Friday it planned to hold an extraordinary meeting late next month over a growing tainted egg scandal as it revealed products contaminated with an insecticide have now spread to 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 sprayed on chickens for ticks, fleas and lice, known as Dega 16.
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, though 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 Friday that contaminated eggs had 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 was aiming to hold talks between EU ministers and food safety agencies concerned on Sept. 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 co-ordinate and to reassure our citizens."
France confirmed one farm in the Nord-Pas de Calais region was found to have used Fipronil, and is now blocked from selling eggs.
German Agriculture Ministry spokeswoman Jennifer Reinhard said Friday "the facts need to be swiftly and fully investigated."
She noted that there are rapid alert systems that should be used if consumers are at risk.
"There must be no compromises when it comes to food safety,'' Reinhard said. ``Information needs to be shared between (EU) member states without delay."
In Poland, Jan Bondar, a spokesman for the Chief Sanitary Inspectorate, said an estimated 40,000 potentially contaminated eggs have been imported but were not sold to consumers. He said the eggs came from the Netherlands and were delivered by a German company. Contamination hasn't been confirmed, but they came from farms where contaminated eggs were found. He said the eggs would either be destroyed or returned to the producer.