On 20 July last, the Belgian authorities informed the European Commission that fipronil had been detected in the eggs and meat of layer hens from farms in Belgium and the Netherlands. The presence of these fipronil residues is linked to the fraudulent use of this substance to treat red lice in poultry. While fipronil is authorised as a pesticide in veterinary medicinal products for pets, it is not authorised for the treatment of livestock animals whose products are intended for consumption.
In this context, on 7 August 2017 ANSES received a formal request from the Ministries of Agriculture, Health and Consumer Affairs for scientific and technical support on the risks to human health from the ingestion of eggs intended for consumption potentially contaminated with fipronil.
Toxicity of fipronil
Fipronil is moderately toxic. The effects observed in humans following acute exposure to preparations containing fipronil are generally benign.
The effects that might occur in the event of ingestion, in view of fipronil’s mechanism of action and experimental data, are neurotoxic effects, and in particular convulsions. However, this type of effect has not been observed in the cases of direct accidental ingestion of fipronil-based products recorded by the French anti-poison centres in the framework of their toxicovigilance mission. The few observations of convulsions identified in the international literature are related to the ingestion of large quantities of this type of product. Dose levels of about 10 times the acute reference dose of have only led to mild and reversible symptoms, mainly digestive disorders, including among children.
Repeated exposure to fipronil has also not shown any alarming effects, only mild local signs.
Health risk assessment concerning the consumption of contaminated eggs
On the basis of the data collected by the Agency in the framework of its national food consumption studies, the risk assessment identified the maximum amount of egg that can be consumed on a single occasion without exposure to acute risk. This assessment was carried out for different populations and on the basis of a maximum concentration of fipronil in contaminated eggs comparable to that currently reported in Europe (1.2 mg/kg of egg). On this basis, the maximum number of eggs that can be consumed varies from one (for a child from 1 to 3 years) to ten per day (for an adult).
|Mean body weight (kg)||Maximum concentration(mg/kg d’oeuf)||Number of eggs|
|Children aged 11 to 17||54||1,2||≤ 8|
|Children aged 3 to 10||25||1,2||≤ 3|
|Children aged 3||14.5||1,2||≤ 2|
|Children aged 1 to 3||12,4||1,2||≤ 1|
Nombre d’œufs pouvant être consommés pour que l’exposition reste inférieure à la valeur toxicologique de référence aiguë (ARfD de 0,009 mg/kg pc)
No quantitative assessment of chronic risks was performed, but Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs) already exist for eggs and poultry meat. Complying with these values will prevent the risks induced by the repeated consumption of the substance concerned.
This assessment only concerns the consumption of contaminated eggs, as no contamination of chicken meat by fipronil has been reported so far. However, the Agency investigated this possibility. Analyses have been carried out at European level on the muscles of treated laying hens, with the following results. The maximum concentration of fipronil observed in the samples analysed was 0.175 mg/kg of muscle. In view of these findings, if this meat were consumed an adult would have to eat several kilograms of contaminated poultry meat on a single occasion to exceed the acute toxicity reference dose (and a child would have to eat about a kilo).
In conclusion, if the maximum consumption levels of contaminated eggs or chicken meat identified by the Agency are exceeded, a risk cannot be ruled out. However, in the light of the concentrations of fipronil currently observed in contaminated products, and taking into account the nature of the hazard related to this substance, the risk of the occurrence of health effects appears to be very low.
Concerning egg products and other processed products containing eggs
On 16 August 2017, ANSES was requested by the Ministry of Agriculture to assess the maximum concentration of fipronil not to be exceeded in processed products containing eggs, to ensure that consumer exposure remains below the acute toxicological reference value.
Using French data on the consumption of foods likely to contain eggs or egg products, it was therefore possible to calculate the concentration of fipronil in these foods not to be exceeded to ensure that exposure remains below the acute toxicological reference value (ARfD of 0.009 mg fipronil/kg body weight). This calculation was based on a worst-case scenario, assuming that the foods are consumed on the same day and are all contaminated with fipronil.
According to this scenario, a concentration of fipronil lower than 0.28 mg/kg of food would not cause exposure greater than the ARfD for 97.5% of consumers between the ages of 3-17 years. To protect more than 99% of consumers between the ages of 3 and 17, this concentration must be below 0.24 mg/kg of food. To protect more than 99% of children 1 to 3 years old, the concentration must not exceed 0.23 mg of fipronil/kg of food.
The Agency therefore recommends a limit not to be exceeded of 0.23 mg of fipronil per kg of food.
Amount of food containing contaminated eggs that can be consumed without reaching the acute toxicological reference value (ARfD) of 0.009 mg/kg body weight:
|Body weight in Kg||Maximum concentration (mg/kg of food*)||Quantity of food not to be exceeded per day, in grams|
* foods that may contain eggs or egg products
The Agency's recommendations
ANSES would first like to reiterate that maximum residue limits (MRLs) are intended to protect consumers from short or long term health risks, related to either single or repeated exposure. Products in which the concentration of fipronil exceeds the MRL should therefore not be marketed or should be withdrawn from sale.
If measurements are taken of the level of fipronil contamination in prepared foods likely to contain contaminated eggs or egg products, it will be necessary to take account of the dilution factor of the eggs or egg products in these foods to compare these results to the MRL.
If poultry, eggs or egg products that are contaminated or likely to be contaminated need to be eliminated, it will be necessary to ensure that the process of elimination implemented guarantees that there is no subsequent contamination of the food chain.