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President,

Honourable Members,

Let me start by thanking your House for this possibility to provide you with the latest update on the recent contamination of eggs and egg products with Fipronil.

Let me begin by assuring you that public health and food safety are always considered a top priority for me and are treated as such by the Commission.

Coherently with this approach the Commission has immediately taken very seriously the friponil issue.

The situation continues to evolve, but I think it is important to clarify right from the beginning the succession of events:

In November 2016, the Dutch Food Authority was informed of illegal use of fipronil in poultry, but since there was no analytical results indicating the presence of fipronil in eggs or chicken meat, the source of the problem was not established.

Test on samples kept from September 2016 revealed the presence of fipronil were done only recently and are under investigations of prosecutors from three countries (DE, NL and BE) are ongoing to check these historical samples - to assess: what was known, when and by whom. Prosecutors will help to answer these questions.

Only on 2 June 2017, following self-controls by a Belgian food business operator, the Belgian Authorities were notified of the presence of fipronil in eggs and started initiating an investigation to understand the source of the problem.

As a consequence of this investigation, on 6 July 2017, the Belgian Authorities initiated a request for information to the Netherlands in the Administrative Assistance and Cooperation System (AAC).

This system allows Member States to liaise bilaterally (or multilaterally) to rapidly confirm suspected cases of fraud and is only actively monitored by the Commission when a "European Commission coordinated case" is created.

Belgium initiated a "normal case", not a European Commission coordinated case, which means that the Commission was not an addressee of the notification and no follow-up was expected by the Commission.

Once the Belgian Authorities had identified the source of fipronil in eggs and the possible extent of the problem, they notified the EU's Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) on 20 July 2017.

Therefore the Commission was only informed of the fipronil contamination on 20 July 2017.But as soon as the issue was notified through the RASFF system, the Commission took control of the situation, focusing on managing and minimising the consequences of the contamination.

Having said that, I want to start by stressing two points:

Firstly, that the risk to human health remains very low and has been successfully contained thanks to the measures which have been taken at EU level.

And secondly, this incident is clearly the result of a criminal act resulting in food fraud.  

This is not to minimize the incident as it relates to an illegal use of an unauthorised substance which is totally unacceptable but this is not about health risk issue.

All contaminated eggs have been withdrawn from the market and the eggs from the few farms with acute risk levels have been recalled from the consumer.

So all in all consumer safety has not been compromised.   

Nevertheless, it appals me that the criminal actions of a few could jeopardise the integrity and reputation of our entire food chain.

So where are we now? Today - and the situation evolves every day - 26 Member States and 23 non-EU countries have been affected by the contamination.

Since the very beginning of this criminal situation I was systematically in contact with my counterparts in the most involved Member States, also asked to verify certain gaps in information.

In response to the findings of fipronil, the Commission requested that specific measures be taken at national level; in particular we have instructed, via the RASFF, the following measures to be taken:

On 31 July 2017, we shared information on applicable maximum residue levels and the measures to be taken as regards illegally treated farms.

On 7 August, Member States were requested to be vigilant with respect to the possible use of other unauthorised substances used to control red mites in poultry establishments.

On 16 August, we reminded all Member States that any past distribution of contaminated eggs/egg products/chicken meat had to be timely notified to RASFF in order to ensure the appropriate follow-up by the authorities of the country of destination.

Apart from the immediate risk management actions, the Commission has also taken additional important steps:

On 21 August a note on the fipronil contamination was shared with our global partners to ensure transparency. The Commission has also been in direct contact with a number of non-EU countries to limit the impact on the EU's export capacity.

On 30 August, we organised a meeting of the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed, which agreed on: an EU-wide monitoring exercise to investigate the possible use of illegal substances - including amitraz - in egg-producing farms.

I personally inform EU Ministers - in the context of the Informal Meeting of the Agriculture and Fisheries Ministers – of the situation, last week in Tallinn.

Finally, to avoid any potential side effects on the food chain, we are asking Competent Authorities to ensure that contaminated food or animal by-products do not find their way into animal feed - and thus back into the food chain.

And let me assure you that my services are working hand in hand with those of Commissioners Malmström and Hogan to ensure that the Commission's response remains coordinated, comprehensive and forward looking.

We also met with both the Agriculture and Rural Development and Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committees (where I was yesterday), and their suggestions, alongside yours today, will inform the ongoing response. 

Now, however, we need to collectively examine what lessons can be learned, and how we communicate and exchange information.

This issue will also be discussed by the Chief Veterinary Officers (CVO) who will meet later this week (on 13/14 September).

With this in mind, the Commission is organising fact-finding missions early October to the four Member States where the original contamination occurred to gather information on the actions taken.

This incident highlights the fact that we need to strengthen the way the EU networks dealing with food safety and food fraud are used.

It is precisely for the reason of providing follow-up at political level that I I have taken the initiative to call a High-level Ministerial meeting on 26 September, where we can reflect and agree on:

How best to strengthen the way the EU networks dealing with food safety and food fraud are used; and

How to improve the coordination between the Administrative Assistance and Cooperation System and the EU's Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed..

President,

Honourable Members,

Bear with me a moment while I touch on the EU's Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) system, which has been subjected to some misplaced criticism of late.

The system was created in 1979 in response to the import of oranges contaminated with mercury.

Since then, RASFF has ensured that the Commission and Member States were able to respond effectively to several crises, including: Crop contamination after Chernobyl - in the 1980s, 'Mad cow' disease- in the mid-1990s, and The more recent detection of E. coli bacteria in sprouts - in the summer of 2011.

RASFF has identified hazards involving mycotoxins, heavy metals, allergens and pesticide residues.

When it is used correctly and when it is fed with clear, rapid and reliable information by the control authorities of the Member States, this system works!!

In practice, RASFF is mobilised when a Member State notifies the system of a danger to public health.

As the system's manager, the Commission verifies the notification and immediately communicates it to other Member States. And this is precisely what happened in the current situation.

Indeed the use of the RASFF, in combination with food traceability provisions, has allowed us to quickly find and destroy the relevant food products in the EU.

Affected farms have been blocked, and will remain so until Member States are certain that their production is safe.

Let me thus be clear - thanks to RASFF, multiple food safety risks have been averted before they could harm European citizens. In 2016 alone, almost 3,000 original notifications were transmitted through the systems.

Many of these were alerts requiring, and resulting in, rapid action. The original fipronil notification has led to nearly 600 follow-up alerts. 

While it is true that every system can be improved, it is worth stressing here that our analysis should focus on the efficient use of and interaction between RASFF and the Administrative Assistance and Cooperation System (AAC) system, more so than their reliability.

With this goal in mind, the Commission is developing a common platform for these systems, and exploring the possibility of a single network of Member State authorities.

President,

Honourable Members,

Let me finish by emphasising once more that close coordination and the steady flow of information between all parties is essential.

We constructed the EU's food safety and food fraud systems and networks together.

Now, we must work collectively to maximise their potential and safeguard the highest standards of food safety for Europe's citizens.

The Parliament will be important in this regard and I am keen to hear your views on the matter today.

Thank you.