The egg contamination scare is spreading from Europe to Korea, where spot checks have also found unacceptably high doses of the pesticide fipronil in farm eggs.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs on Monday provisionally banned egg shipments from farms with more than 3,000 laying hens each. The measure affects more than 80 percent of the 43 million eggs that are distributed in the country every day.
Eggs contaminated with fipronil were first found in Belgium on July 20 and later in the Netherlands. The insecticide was first found at a farm in Namyangju, Gyeonggi Province, which is estimated to have shipped 100,000 eggs until authorities took samples on Aug. 9, and since also in Cherwon, Gangwon Province and Gwangju, Gyeonggi Province.
The country's three superstore chains E-Mart, Homeplus and Lotte Mart, stopped selling eggs at all of their branches on Tuesday. "We decided to keep eggs off the shelves for the time being in consideration of consumers' fears," a store staffer said.
Agriculture Minister Kim Young-rok told a conference on Tuesday that the ministry stopped all 1,456 farms raising laying hens from shipping out eggs. He promised to finish tests at all farms by Thursday.
Fipronil has been widely used all around the world over the past two decades since its market launch. Even if they have eaten a lot of eggs contaminated with the insecticide, people are exposed to lower toxicity than if they inhale it or it comes in contact with their skin.
"The contaminated eggs don't seem to have a lot of harmful effects on human health," said Prof. Leem Jong-han of Inha University. "But we need to conduct a thorough study because long-term exposure to the substance could cause problems."
Shelves are empty in a supermarket in Seoul on Tuesday amid an egg contamination scare.