E. coli: Russia bans import of EU vegetables

Cucumbers at a farm near Almeria, Spain Spain says its farmers have lost millions of euros

Russia has banned the import of all fresh vegetables from the European Union because of the E. coli outbreak centred on Germany.

The country's chief medical officer said EU-produced vegetables would be seized across Russia.

More than 1,500 people have been infected by enterohaemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC), which can cause the deadly haemolytic-uraemic syndrome (HUS).

Seventeen people have died - 16 of them in Germany and one in Sweden.

The World Health Organization says that the E. coli bacterium behind the outbreak is a new, mutant strain.

Earlier suggestions that infected Spanish cucumbers were the source of the outbreak have now been discounted, with German health officials admitting they do not know where this particularly virulent strain of of E.coli has come from.

The EU regarded the Russian ban as "disproportionate" and would be lodging a protest, European Commission spokesman Frederic Vincent said.

He added that the total value of EU exports of fresh vegetables to Russia was 600m euros a year, a quarter of the total exported. Spain, France, Germany and Poland are the biggest exporters.

Russia banned vegetable imports from Germany and Spain earlier this week.

Analysis

At the Turkish market in Berlin, the few stalls that have decided to offer cucumbers have big piles of unsold ones, unsold even with the word "Holland" written all over the labels. And even at half the normal price - 99 cents (£0.86) instead of the usual two euros a kilo.

There are tomatoes too - great big, red ones - piles of them, unsold and squashy.

When I left in the early afternoon, they were already being tipped by the pile into the big waste bins at the entrance by Yorckstrasse S-Bahn station.

The traders do their best, shouting out the bargains in Turkish and German. But you cannot beat fear, and that is what consumers now have.

Consumer protection agency head Gennady Onishchenko announced the the extension of the ban to cover fresh vegetables from anywhere in the European Union.

He said orders to stop all incoming European vegetable shipments had been issued to Russian customs authorities, adding: "I call on people to forgo imported vegetables in favour of domestic products."

He criticised food safety standards in the EU.

"This shows that Europe's lauded health legislation - one which Russia is being urged to adopt - does not work," he said.

Hamburg cluster

The head of the German public health body tackling the E. coli outbreak says it may be months before it stops, depending on whether infected food is still in warehouses and whether the original source is still active.

Reinhard Burger, president of the Robert Koch Institute, told the BBC "we may never know" the infections' source.

HUS cases and deaths, by country

Map showing reported cases HUS in Europe
  • Germany: 470 cases, 16 deaths
  • Sweden: 15 cases, one death
  • Denmark: Seven cases
  • The Netherlands: Three cases
  • UK: Three cases
  • Spain: One case

Sources: European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, Robert Koch Institute, UK Health Protection Agency

At least 365 new E. coli cases were reported on Wednesday, a quarter of them involving HUS, a condition associated with bloody diarrhoea and kidney failure, the Robert Koch Institute said.

Spain is seeking compensation after German authorities initially alleged a link between Spanish vegetables and the deadly strain of bacteria, causing sales to collapse. The loss of earnings for affected farmers in Spain has been estimated at more than 200 million euros ($290 million) per week.

The European Commission lifted its warning over the Spanish cucumbers on Wednesday, saying tests "did not confirm the presence of the specific serotype (O104), which is responsible for the outbreak affecting humans."

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said Spain would "seek reparations before the relevant authorities in Europe".

In an interview with Spanish national radio, he said: "Yesterday, it became clear, with the analyses carried out by the Spanish agency for food safety, that there is not the slightest indication that the origin of the serious infection is any Spanish product.

"Now we have a very ambitious task ahead of us, which is to recover our good reputation as soon as possible and the trade in all Spanish products."

Mr Burger said German authorities had tried to balance risks when they wrongly blamed Spanish farms. He said the authorities had to act quickly - even though the conclusion later turned out to be wrong.

Health advice

  • Wash fruit and vegetables before eating them
  • Peel or cook fruit and vegetables
  • Wash hands regularly to prevent person-to-person spread of E. coli strain

Source: UK Health Protection Agency

"We wanted to avoid new infection sources. It's a difficult balance," he said. "You don't want to wait a long time and on the other hand you don't want to cry wolf."

In addition to Germany, cases of EHEC have also been reported in eight other European countries - Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK.

Virtually all the sick people either live in Germany or recently travelled there.

Several countries have taken steps to curtail the outbreak, such as banning cucumber imports and removing the vegetables from sale.

Health authorities have also advised people to wash fruit and vegetables thoroughly, to do the same with all cutlery and plates, and to wash their hands before meals.

More on This Story

Europe's E. coli outbreak

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Europe stories

RSS

Features

  • Firth of Forth bridgeWhat came Firth?

    How the Forth was crossed before the famous bridge


  • Petrol pumpPumping up

    Why are petrol prices rising again?


  • Image of George from Tube CrushTube crush

    How London's male commuters set Chinese hearts racing


  • Elderly manSuicide decline

    The number of old people killing themselves has fallen. Why?


  • TricycleTreasure trove

    The lost property shop stuffed with diamonds, bikes... and a leg


Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.