Former Dutch government minister to lead tainted egg probe

By MIKE CORDER Markets Associated Press

A former Dutch justice minister was appointed Wednesday to lead an investigation into the illegal use of a pesticide on laying hens, which sparked a food scare in Europe and beyond and led to the destruction of millions of eggs.

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According to a government-commissioned report, the estimated direct economic cost of the scandal to affected Dutch egg farmers was around 33 million euros ($39 million), due to sales bans and measures to clean up contaminated farms.

The true cost is likely much higher. The report did not gauge the economic impact of indirect consequences such as the damaged reputations of farmers whose eggs were found to be tainted with the pesticide Fipronil and those with unaffected farms.

Some supermarkets in Germany — the biggest export market for eggs from the Netherlands — banned all Dutch eggs, not just those from affected farms.

The report said that, in total, 664 laying stalls at 258 farms were banned from selling eggs. Some of those affected have since been cleared to resume sales.

The scandal started when Fipronil was found to have been illegally mixed into an insect spray used to treat lice on chickens.

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Former Justice Minister Winnie Sorgdrager will now lead an investigation into what happened.

"The investigation must show what happened and what can be improved so that lessons can be learned," the government said in a statement.

A criminal investigation and a probe by the independent Dutch Safety Board are already underway. A group of Dutch lawmakers will interrupt their summer recess to hold a debate Thursday on the Fipronil scandal.

In Italy, police said Wednesday that they have confiscated 92,000 eggs and 26,000 hens after finding four eggs contaminated with Fipronil.

Health inspectors of the Carabinieri police said the confiscations came during recent inspections in Ancona and Viterbo. Some 253 inspections have so far been carried out in Italy.

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Nicole Winfield in Rome contributed to this report.