Contaminated eggs scandal: report slams food safety board, egg producers

A formal report into last year's contaminated egg scandal, which led to 3.6 million hens being slaughtered, has slammed egg producers, government inspectors and ministers for failing to put food safety first. Neither the poultry sector, the food safety board or the two ministries involved showed sufficient concern for food safety when the fipronil crisis broke, the report said. In particular, the health and farm ministers failed to inform parliament and the public properly about the scandal, while the farming industry put profit ahead of food safety and did not carry out proper checks for banned substances. The food safety board also showed major failings by not reacting 'adequately' when it was first tipped off about the contamination crisis at the end of 2016 and in early 2017. This allowed Chickfriend, which had supplied the anti-louse chemicals, to continue operating for several more months, the report said. Barneveld-based company Chickfriend, now bankrupt, supplied its anti-louse agent to some 360 farms nationwide. It did not cooperate with the inquiry because it is currently the subject of a criminal investigation. 'The egg sector had been plagued by a problem with lice for years,' the report said. 'Then along came a wonder product. Alarm bells should have started ringing immediately.' The total damage of the scandal to the poultry sector is put at some €100m. Former justice minister Winnie Sorgdrager, who led the investigating commission, declined to comment on possible damages for farmers who were affected because of the legal implications. Dutch egg farmers are taking the food safety board to court for failing to do its job and say it should be financially responsible for their problems.    More >

Wiebes agrees €1bn deal on Groningen gas

The Dutch government has agreed a €1 billion deal with Shell and Exxon to redevelop the Groningen gas fields after production ends in 2030. NAM, the joint venture of the two companies which is responsible for gas production, agreed in return to drop a claim against the government for the unextracted gas, which has an estimated value of €70 billion. Under the terms of the deal NAM will continue to meet the cost of claims for damage caused by earthquakes linked to gas extraction and measures to protect buildings from collapse. The government and the two oil firms will each set aside €500 million to cover the anticipated costs. Economic affairs minister Eric Wiebes said the negotiations had taken longer than expected because of the economic and legal complexity of the deal. 'I think people in Groningen can now be sure that somebody will always pay the cost of their damage and structural support. We are still a long way from the end of the process, but this is a step forwards. 'The oil companies have taken responsibility by not charging for the gas that will remain in the ground. Don't forget that this is their gas, not the government's.' No mandate Marjan van Loon, president of Shell Netherlands, said: 'We are entering the last phase of gas extraction in Groningen. As Shell we are supporting the people of Groningen. This agreement confirms that.'   However, Labour (PvdA) MP Henk Nijboer said the deal would cost taxpayers billions in the long term and accused Wiebes of putting the interests of the oil companies above those of Groningen residents. 'The minister is giving away billions in future gas revenues to Shell and Exxon Mobil without securing a democratic mandate from parliament,' said Nijboer. 'That conflicts with the Lower House's budget rules. This deal should have been put before parliament in advance.'  More >

Public transport strike set to go ahead

A strike by bus, tram and train drivers this week looks set to go ahead after trade union CNV said there was little hope of reaching a settlement before Wednesday. Most regional public transport services will be brought to a halt by the 72-hour stoppage, which is the result of a dispute over pay and conditions. Unions want a 3.5% pay rise for transport workers and measures to reduce work pressure, while the employers have offered a 2% increase and proposed no changes to conditions. CNV said it had not ruled out reaching a deal before Wednesday, but the prospects were receding. Last week the union, which represents 12,000 drivers, postponed the strike action by two days to extend the negotiating period. 'The hope of reaching an agreement is not completely gone, but at the moment all the signs strongly indicate that there is no light at the end of the tunnel,' said a statement by the union. The strike will affect regional services operated by Arriva, Connexxion, EBS, Keolis and Qbuzz. Trains operated by NS and Arriva will continue to run, with the exception of Arriva trains in Limburg, as well as trams and buses in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague, which are covered by separate labour agreements.  More >

We Are Here ordered to leave office block

Refugees protesting against Dutch asylum policy. A judge has ordered a group of failed asylum seekers to leave a disused office in Amstelveen where they have been squatting since the start of the month. The We Are Here group moved in to the premises on the Meester G. Groen van Prinstererlaan after being evicted from houses in Amsterdam that they occupied at the end of May. A court in Amsterdam ordered them to leave the building after the owner filed a police complaint. The judge said he sympathised with their position but they had breached the owner's right to property and alternative accommodation was available. The group were not ordered to pay the costs of the case. The We Are Here group has squatted in several premises in Amsterdam since being formed six years ago. Its 180 members are in the country illegally, having exhausted the asylum claims procedure, but say they are unable to return to their home countries. Their ongoing campaign to be given shelter has divided Amsterdam's political parties. GroenLinks, the leading party in the city's coalition, wants to establish a permanent 24-hour shelter for undocumented migrants, while the VVD and CDA argue they should be given no assistance and the police should be sent in to evict squatters.  More >

Three in 10 local politicians threatened

Nearly three in ten local politicians in the Netherlands encountered aggression or violence while carrying out their duties last year, according to new research. Politicians were most likely to be threatened on social media or in face-to-face confrontations. Rotterdam’s mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb revealed at the weekend that he had stepped up his personal security detail after receiving death threats for permitting a demonstration by anti-Islam group Pegida. Home affairs minister Kajsa Ollongren has announced plans to set up a national support team including experienced politicians and experts in security and personal integrity to help local officials deal with threatening situations. The survey showed a slight increase in the frequency of threats to politicians from 2016, when 27% reported aggression or violence. Ollongren is also considering whether to screen all newly appointed mayors and their home addresses for potential security weaknesses. She also said political officials should report incidents of threatening and violent behaviour, after the research showed that only 10% of affected individuals notified police.  More >

Dutchwoman makes history in Ocean Race win

Dutch sailor Carolijn Brouwer has become the first woman to win the round-the-world Volvo Ocean Race following a dramatic finish in Scheveningen on Sunday. Brouwer’s Dongfeng Race Team passed Team Brunel in the final hour of the last stage from Gothenburg to The Hague on Sunday, denying her countryman Bouwe Bekking a first victory in eight attempts. ‘It was an insane race. The main thing was to keep a cool head and we managed that,’ said Brouwer, 44, who was trimmer in a crew skippered by Frenchman Charles Caudrelier. ‘It was the most important race of my career,’ she said. ‘It’s a dream come true. We pulled it off.’ Originally from Leiden, Brouwer currently lives in Australia and has competed in the Olympics with both Dutch and Belgian crews. The Volvo Ocean Race lasts eight months across 11 stages spanning 45,000 miles. The rules were changed this year to encourage more mixed crews by restricting the size of all-male teams to seven. Mixed teams could have up to 10 members while all-female crews had a maximum of 11. Brunel, which finished fourth in the stage and third in the overall standings, was one of two Dutch crews participating in the nine-month race. The other crew, sponsored by AkzoNobel and skippered by Simeon Tienpont, took second place on the final stage to secure fourth place overall.    More >

Exam debacle could end up in court

Parents of 354 school pupils whose exam results were declared invalid because of administrative errors are considering going to court to overturn the decision. The students in Maastricht were told on Saturday that they would have to resit their VMBO exams because they had not completed the necessary coursework during the year to allow them to take the exam. The mistakes came to light after a whistleblower tipped off education inspectors about problems with the internal exams and registration procedures at Stichting Limburgs Voortgezet Onderwijs (SLVO), which operates two secondary schools in the southern province. Education minister Arie Slob told parliament last week that all 354 secondary school pupils may now have to retake their final exams before they can receive their diploma. As the results will not be announced until August 31, this could prevent them continuing their studies next year. Wouter Geertsen, a lawyer acting for the families, said he see if there were legal avenues to have the exam results declared valid. ‘If that fails, the school needs to rectify the situation over the summer by allowing the children to sit the necessary exams, so they can continue their studies after the holidays,’ he told AD. ‘If necessary we will enforce this through an injunction in the civil courts.’ Geertsen said he would also be seeking compensation for cancelled holidays, the need to purchase extra study materials and students who may need to retake the school year. Almost 20,000 people have signed an online petition calling for the students to be given their diplomas ‘without further delay’, arguing that they have been ‘the victims of an institution that seriously failed in its primary duty.’ The sentiment was echoed by André Postema, chairman of SLVO, who told NOS: ‘This is the worst thing that can happen to pupils and a school. I understand that the inspectorate needs to do its job, but this has far-reaching implications. This decision is not in the interests of the children. Punish us, not the students.’ Postema also said two members of the organisation’s board had resigned and an external committee would be set up to oversee school exams in future. He said a review of the affected exams would be completed on Tuesday, after which students would be told whether or not they will have to retake their exams. Postema claimed that not all students were affected by the administrative problems which had let to ‘incomplete work’ being submitted.  More >