Consumer jitters are growing in South Korea despite a temporary ban on the distribution of eggs until health authorities complete a nationwide probe prompted by the presence of eggs tainted with fipronil, an insecticide that sparked a health scare across Europe.
Imported eggs were not at fault as traces of the pesticide were found Monday at a farm in Seoul's eastern satellite city of Namyangju. The agriculture ministry ordered a temporary ban on shipments by all 1,456 egg-producing farms which were also put under a health check.
As of early Wednesday, the government completed a probe into 245 farms and discovered fipronil at two farms and excessive residues of bifenthrin, an insecticide used primarily against the red imported fire ant, from eggs produced by four other farms.
Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon said that all eggs contaminated with insecticides would be recalled and destroyed. He tried to allay a public health scare saying the situation appeared to be controllable. "It does not seem to be as widespread as many people are concerned about," he said, adding some farms have used insecticides to get rid of ticks.
Any processed food that used eggs tainted with fipronil would be recalled and destroyed.
Major convenience stores and discount store chains followed up with the withdrawal of eggs from shelves. Education authorities in Seoul and other cities banned the use of eggs for school meals and army canteens stopped using eggs.
Fipronil is commonly used to get rid of fleas, lice and ticks from animals but it is banned in Europe from use in the food industry. When eaten in large quantities it can harm kidneys, liver and thyroid glands. The insecticide has now been discovered in eggs in 17 European countries since the scandal came to light in early August.
South Korea was hit by the spread of highly pathogenic avian flu that has left a record 37 million layer chickens culled since it was reported first in November last year. To control prices, Seoul has eased trade restrictions to import eggs from European and other countries. The latest shipment came from Thailand.
Just a month ago, a strict ban on the distribution of live chickens was eased at open markets in areas where bird flu cases have not been reported, in a move to promote the seasonal consumption of chickens at the request of traders, consumers and restaurant owners.
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