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Belgium's giant omelette festival defies tainted egg scandal

[BRUSSELS] You cannot make a giant omelette without breaking thousands of eggs, health scare or not, and the small Belgian town of Malmedy is determined its annual festival is going ahead come what may.

Ten thousand hen's eggs will be used for the traditional event in the town near the German border despite a scandal sweeping Europe involving eggs tainted with the insecticide fipronil.

"I did not have any problem finding enough eggs, but the week has indeed been a bit different," Benedicte Mathy, president of the local branch of the World Giant Omelette Brotherhood, told AFP Friday.

Belgium and the Netherlands are at the centre of the crisis that has so far seen tainted eggs found in 15 EU countries, Switzerland and Hong Kong, with millions of eggs removed from supermarket shelves.

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Ms Mathy, who has organised the annual Giant Omelette festival in Malmedy for more than 20 years, insists every precaution has been taken in collecting the eggs used.

"We have largely organised our own supplies, about 8,000 eggs which come from a farm some 40 kilometres (25 miles) from here so we know the quality," she said by telephone.

The rest come from two supermarket chains sponsoring the event who are aware no risks can be taken given the publicity the event generates, especially this year, she said.

"The main thing is that we can reassure the public that the eggs are safe."

A record 7,000 visitors came to Malmedy last year for the festival, held every August 15, heartily tucking into the omelette cooked in a giant skillet in the town square.

For this year, Ms Mathy says local people have been supportive and noted that Malmedy's festival dates back to the 1990s when Belgium was hit with a similar scandal - over chicken and eggs contaminated with dioxin, a known carcinogen.

"People have confidence in us. One cannot organise a festival like ours without taking precautions," she said.