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Recall of Belgian Eggs Due to Dioxin Contamination


The Brussels Times Reported on Wednesday August 14th that eggs packed in Limburg under the EKE brand have been recalled as a result of dioxin contamination. The current problem is reminiscent of the 1999 episode in which animal feed was contaminated with polychlorobiphenyls (PCBs) and dioxins.  The case was investigated following mortality in chicks showing characteristic changes associated with PCB toxicity including hydropericardium and degenerative changes in skeletal and cardiac muscle tissue.  These lesions were first described in the 1960’s as “chick-edema disease” or “toxic fat syndrome” following ingestion of polyhalogenated hydrocarbons as a contaminant of fat incorporated into poultry diets.


The 1999 event was confirmed by the presence of high levels of dioxins in feed, meat, eggs and the fat of poultry fed specific batches of feed containing contaminated feed-grade oil.  Traceback investigations showed that used mineral oil had been added inadvertently to recycled fat that was subsequently rendered for use in animal feed.  Flocks and herds on over 2,500 farms were affected requiring extensive recall of pork, eggs and dairy products in Belgium, Holland and Germany.  The episode led to the introduction of routine surveillance for PCB and dioxin on a wide range of food products in Belgium.


Studies are currently in progress in the present case to determine the extent and severity of contamination. Presumed affected product has been removed from the shelves of major supermarkets including Delhaize and Carrefour.  Since product has an expiration date of August 18th a proportion of the affected eggs have obviously been consumed.


To their credit Belgium responded promptly to the problem as opposed to delays in reacting to fipronil contamination affecting flocks in Holland and Belgium in 2017. 


In an expression of schadenfreude, Andrew Joret chairman of the British Egg Industry Council stated, “This incident is just the latest in a long line of food safety issues related to non-U.K. eggs.”  He added, “U.K. food businesses should protect themselves by putting trust in British Lion eggs and egg products which are produced at a higher standard of food safety.”  While Joret’s comments may be well accepted by his membership, the situation that has occurred in Belgium may well have been in reality in the U.K. or any nation using recycled fats.  In 2015 fat from restaurants rendered in a western Michigan plant was contaminated with residue from a facility producing an ionophore anticoccidial. Incorporation of the recycled oil in diets resulted in the death of over 15,000 turkeys and contaminated hogs. 


The entire chain of manufacture of animal feed extending from ingredients, both harvested and processed, requires appropriate quality control and surveillance for contaminants.  Investigation of instances of accidental introduction of toxic compounds have been investigated and proven to be costly.  The possible deleterious effect of undetected contamination cannot be assessed especially with compounds associated with chronic toxicity or those which occur infrequently.


Experience is a great educator.  The events of 1999 in Belgium and the subsequent introduction of routine surveillance obviously averted a more serious reoccurrence twenty years later.