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Contaminated eggs from EU set to reach Lebanon.

Summary: Lebanon is among the non-EU states destined to receive a batch of contaminated egg-derived products, The Daily Star was able to determine, following interviews with EU and Lebanese ministries.

BEIRUT: Lebanon is among the non-EU states destined to receive a batch of contaminated egg-derived products, The Daily Star was able to determine, following interviews with EU and Lebanese ministries. Eggs contaminated with toxic levels of insecticide were discovered last week to have spread to 24 EU and 16 non-EU countries, following the distribution of a banned anti-lice agent to farms.

But the Lebanese government said the merchandise does not pose a risk to the public at present.

Insecticide Fipronil is considered to be moderately toxic and can result in organ damage in humans if ingested in elevated quantities. Millions of eggs and egg-based products were recalled from the shelves last week after the Dutch authorities found out that Fipronil had been used illegally in farms in the Netherlands. The scale of the contamination has now reached 40 countries, with 24 out of 28 EU nations reportedly affected.

A functionary of the European Union's Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed who agreed to talk to The Daily Star on condition of anonymity confirmed that thanks to the EU system of traceability, the agency had been able to confirm that Lebanon was among the recipients of the contaminated products.

"We have in our system four follow-up notifications that confirm that the eggs were distributed to Lebanon," the source said. In conformity with the laws on traceability, notifications must be sent by each member state detailing the provenance of the product and its destination in the market. According to the source, "right now [the EU has] 550 follow-ups [in total and] only four of them concern the Lebanese market."

The delegation of the European Union in Lebanon confirmed that a notification was issued to the local authorities. "Lebanon is informed about noncompliant shipments via the RASFF system," an EU official said in an email to The Daily Star.

"The Lebanese authorities have not raised any concerns on the issue so far. Lebanon so far has not been affected much by the 'Fipronil contamination' since imports from the EU are limited."

Lebanon does not import eggs from the European Union, but it does receive egg-based products that may retain Fipronil.

The Economy Ministry confirmed having received a notification from the EU that was then forwarded to the Agriculture Ministry.

"According to the information we have from the EU, we might be receiving 5 tons of [contaminated] egg powder," Tarek Younes, director of consumer protection at the Economy Ministry, told The Daily Star. "However, we are not sure whether it has entered Lebanon yet."

The Agriculture Ministry, which is in charge of issuing permits to food importers as well as monitoring the distribution of such products in Lebanon, denied that the merchandise had entered the country.

"The company mentioned by the EU is not registered in our ministry for import," Elias Ibrahim, animal resources director at the Agriculture Ministry, told The Daily Star.

"We did not give any permits to this company to import powder[ed] eggs, so it might be in transit to another country."

Ibrahim aired Syria as a possible final destination for the powdered eggs, despite the fact that this implies a breach of the stringent sanctions imposed on the country.

He gave assurances that, even if the shipment were only to transit through Lebanon, it would be stopped. "But we don't know if it will arrive or if it changed direction," he added.

The limit for Fipronil in eggs is set by the EU at the detection limit of 0.005 mg/kg. Larger quantities might cause harm to humans, especially when combined with other chemicals. "The toxicity of Fipronil is not very high," the RASFF functionary clarified. "The problem is that other pesticides are found in vegetables and fruit, so the cocktail of all these pesticides [can make the toxicity level] really high."

From the perspective of the RASFF, the emergence of the so-called "egg scandal" is a sign that controls over food quality are working. "The fact that [the pesticide] was found is a good thing," the source said. "[Fipronil] had been used in the past, but now it has been detected. This is why the story became so big."

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Geographic Code:7LEBA
Date:Sep 13, 2017
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