A Belgian business manager was sentenced, Friday, June 4, by the Antwerp court to three years in prison, two of which were suspended, in the scandal of eggs contaminated with fipronil, which had shaken the European poultry industry in 2017.
The judgment is subject to appeal, but this is the first prison sentence handed down in the Belgian section of this health scandal. A procedure initiated at the same time in the Netherlands had led, in April, to identical sentences, to one year in prison, for two entrepreneurs.
In Belgium, it is mainly the company Agro Remijsen, now bankrupt, which found itself in the sights of justice. The firm was found guilty of having deceived the vigilance of poultry farmers: it had marketed a disinfectant for henhouses, called “Dega-16”, falsely presented as 100% natural, but which actually contained fipronil, a prohibited insecticide. illegally imported from Romania.
The boss of Agro Remijsen, a 49-year-old man, receives the heaviest sentence: three years, two of which suspended, as well as a fine of 200,000 euros, also suspended, said the criminal court of Antwerp in a press release. One of his associates and another business manager were sentenced to the same sentence of eighteen months in prison and a fine of 20,000 euros, all accompanied by the suspension.
A total of seven business leaders and four companies were on trial in Antwerp. But the court was more lenient than the prosecution in its requisitions, ruling that only three officials and their two companies deserved a conviction.
The use of fipronil to disinfect poultry houses, mainly in Belgium and the Netherlands, had shaken the entire European poultry industry in 2017, leading to the preventive slaughter of poultry and the removal of tens of millions of eggs from supermarket shelves. .
Authorized to fight lice and mites in dogs and cats, fipronil is banned in the European Union in livestock buildings, because the antiparasitic may end up on animals intended for the food chain. The risk of residues, even slight, must be excluded, in order to protect human health. In this case, it was used to fight more effectively against the red louse, the declared enemy of the henhouses. Agro Remijsen, a firm established in Ravels near the Dutch border, presented its Dega-16 as the miracle product against this parasite.
In Belgium, a disinfection company used it knowing full well that it was prohibited and harmful, the court noted. It is the manager of this company who is sentenced, alongside the two partners of Agro Remijsen.
As for this firm, at the heart of the scandal, it is also struck by a seizure of assets up to 100,000 euros, to which is added that of real estate acquired illegally in Turkey by the two partners, a estimated value of 115,000 euros. This property was purchased using “Funds whose legal origin has not been proven”, underlines the court, which compares the fraud orchestrated by these two leaders to a “Criminal organization”.
Two million poultry slaughtered
The Fipronil crisis that erupted in the summer of 2017 had affected almost all of Europe, and suspect foods (potentially contaminated eggs or egg products) had even been discovered in Hong Kong. In Belgium alone, “More than 77 million” eggs had to be destroyed, and nearly two million poultry slaughtered, according to the Belgian Authority for the Safety of the Food Chain (Afsca), which was a civil party in the lawsuit.
Afsca was recognized on Friday for the right to compensation of 17 million euros, corresponding to the amount disbursed after the scandal to compensate for the losses of Belgian farms.
“We are satisfied with this judgment, it indicates that food fraud is taken seriously”, reacted Stéphanie Maquoi, spokesperson for Afsca. The Belgian agency had deplored “A colossal impact on the perception of companies in the sector”.