FRANKFURT/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Germany's agriculture minister said on Tuesday that the contamination of millions of eggs with a potentially harmful insecticide was "criminal", as authorities in several European countries continued to investigate the food safety scare.
Retailers in several European countries have pulled millions of eggs from supermarket shelves as the scare over the use of the insecticide fipronil widened. Millions of hens may need to be culled in the Netherlands.
Fipronil is a popular insecticide to treat pets for fleas and ticks but it is forbidden for use in the food chain because it may cause organ damage in humans if large quantities are ingested.
"It is criminal, that is very clear," Christian Schmidt told German television station ARD on Tuesday, without giving further details.
Dutch and Belgian authorities have pinned the source of the insecticide to a supplier of cleaning products in the Netherlands.
The European Commission said it had first learned about the contamination in late July when it received an official notification from Belgium but had not yet established whether the country had broken any rules by not notifying sooner.
The Belgian food safety regulator has drawn criticism both at home and from abroad after it said it was made aware of a first case of fipronil contamination in early June.
The regulator, which had repeatedly stated that none of the eggs tested had levels of fipronil above those considered safe in the EU, said on Tuesday that a second test on a batch of Belgian eggs had shown levels in excess of those limits.
As those eggs came from a producer that has been barred from the market since July 18, the contaminated eggs had already been withdrawn from the supply chain, the regulator added.
Germany's Schmidt said there should not now be any contaminated eggs left on store shelves in Germany.
Batches of possibly contaminated eggs from the Netherlands and Germany had also been shipped to Sweden, Switzerland, France and Britain, EU filings showed last weekend.
Contaminated eggs from the Netherlands and Belgium have also been found at five food production sites in France, the country's agriculture ministry said on Tuesday, and all products still present at the factories are barred from sale.
Authorities are working to "identify the destination of products already shipped that are likely to be contaminated", the ministry said in a statement.
Reporting by Gernot Heller in Frankfurt, Robert-Jan Bartunek in Brussels; Editing by Maria Sheahan, Angus MacSwan, Greg Mahlich