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To remove pesticides, farms detox hens

Agricultural Ministry has no plans to cull affected chickens
Aug 22,2017
As the list of egg farms that use harmful pesticides continues to grow, farms where contaminated eggs have already been found are coming up with measures to detox their hens.

Agricultural experts say that over time, chickens can excrete all of the bifenthrin and fipronil, the two pesticides found in eggs that are harmful to humans if ingested, in their system. It takes about two days to a week for the body to cut the amount of both chemicals in half.

That means over a period of one month, the pesticide residue in chickens can reach nearly zero after three or four rounds of so-called halving.

“Eggs from hens that went through the halving rounds are safe,” said Nam Tae-heon, director general of the National Agricultural Products Quality Management Service.

Based on that theory, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs said Sunday that it had no plans to cull chickens that laid contaminated eggs. Instead, it will get rid of eggs laid by those hens for an unspecified period of time.

One farm in Eumseong County, North Chungcheong, where bifenthrin was found, has opted to feed its hens every three days for two weeks as a detox measure, hoping that the chickens will expel the pesticides faster.

The government’s decision, though, has not reassured the public because it is still not easy to verify whether the eggs they are buying are safe. Consumers in general have lost confidence in the government as it continues to unearth more farms that used harmful chemicals.

So far, 49 farms have been found to produce eggs with excessive levels of pesticides, and those farms have a combined 2.64 million hens.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs said it would re-examine the chickens after some time has passed but did not offer details on a timeline.

“We will approve shipments only when inspections in the last minute show the eggs contain zero pesticides,” said Kim Yong-sang, a manager at the foot-and-mouth disease quarantine division of the ministry. “How long it will take [for the hens to become clean] will differ according to individual farms.”

“The government should strictly manage the situation until it is proven that eggs do not contain any pesticides,” said Ryu Young-soo, a professor of veterinary medicine at Konkuk University in eastern Seoul.

“Authorities are advised to ramp up investment in developing eco-friendly pesticides and publicize the outcome.”

In European countries where similar pesticides were recently found in eggs, affected farms have been prohibited from resuming operations until they can prove that all their hens and eggs are pesticide-free. In the Netherlands, where 20 percent of 800 egg farms inspected were producing eggs containing the toxic chemicals, 300,000 chickens have been culled.

Some farms have implemented a detox diet for their hens similar to the farm in North Chungcheong.

Miriam van Bree, a spokeswoman for Bionext, an organization for organic farming, was quoted as saying by AFP on Aug. 12 that the best way to tackle the situation was to “put the contaminated chickens on a diet” because fipronil is concentrated in the bird’s fat.

She excluded the possibility of slaughter because of animal welfare concerns.


BY PARK HYUN-YOUNG [seo.jieun@joongang.co.kr]