E. coli puts spotlight on food chain complexity

 
Worker throwing out cucumbers in Algarrobo, Spain, 1 Jun 11 Growers in southern Spain are destroying many tonnes of vegetables

The deadly E. coli strain which has never been seen in an outbreak before continues to baffle officials.

In Germany hundreds of tests have been carried out, but they can't pinpoint the cause. The authorities are still recommending that raw salad vegetables should not be eaten.

The facts are that nearly 2,000 people have been infected. All but two of the cases involve people who reside in or had recently visited northern Germany. Some scientists suggest that most probably the source of the outbreak is in Germany and that food from elsewhere is safe. But they can't be certain. That is reflected in official comments coming out of Germany.

The consumer protection ministry says authorities still do not believe meat or dairy products are the source of the outbreak.

Wenonah Hauter, from Food & Water Watch Europe, says the system of food production makes detection difficult.

"Food markets have consolidated into the hands of a few large corporations that deal in tremendous volume. Larger volumes and longer supply chains, in turn, make trace-back more difficult and put a larger number of consumers at risk if there is an incident of microbial contamination somewhere in the system," she says.

"The E. coli outbreak in Europe shows just how hard it can be to pinpoint where things go wrong in such a labyrinthine system."

Spain-Germany tensions

Originally the authorities in Hamburg identified the source of the outbreak as Spanish cucumbers. This was not only incorrect but led to a bitter argument between Spain and Germany. The Spanish Prime Minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, said "there is not the slightest indication that the origin of the serious infection is any Spanish product."

But the damage had been done: 150,000 tonnes of cucumbers went unsold in Spain. The cost to business is put at more than 200m euros ($290m; £177m) a week.

There are stories of workers being laid off. This is unusually sensitive because the agricultural sector is vital to a Spanish economy where over 20% are unemployed - the highest rate in the EU. Prime Minister Zapatero is seeking compensation.

He spoke to Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel by phone. She regretted the damage caused, but said that the Hamburg authorities had acted in accordance with German law.

According to reports from Madrid, Mrs Merkel says she will push for EU compensation for Spanish farmers, although why the rest of the EU should pay for this is unclear.

In Germany the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the national disease centre, is still advising consumers to avoid cucumbers, tomatoes and salad - whatever their origin.

There were reports today of a huge gathering in Dresden, but no salad was served. In a normal week vegetable growers see a turnover of a billion euros across Europe. Last week sales were at a standstill.

Yesterday a BBC team in Germany visited a cucumber grower who had just seen his major supermarket contract cancelled. He is left with vegetables but no market.

 
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Europe's E. coli outbreak

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  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 126.

    126 powermeer
    "Spanish farmers alone have lost more than 200 millions already.
    And their losses continue.So my claim they would nor be fully compensated by Germany or EU is correct."
    ---
    How do you know it's 200m? How do you know they won't be properly compensated? Are you an expert on damage assessment? And why this sudden concern for the welfare of Spanish farmers? That's certainly new!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 125.

    Spanish farmers alone have lost more than 200 millions already.
    And their losses continue.

    So my claimt they would nor be fully compensated by Germany or EU is correct.

    BTW. it looks like Spaniards not only have not infected anybody, but are doing quite well in fighting infections affecting others.

    "Three members of the Anonymous hacking group have just been arrested in Spain." (wires)

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 124.

    123 powermeer
    "Poor, much maligned Spanish farmers. who of course won't be compensated in full by either by Germany or EU now."
    ---
    "The EU has increased to 210m euros (£187m) its offer of compensation to Spanish and other EU farmers who have lost income due to an outbreak of E. coli. It had initially offered 150m euros, but EU Farm Commissioner Dacian Ciolos raised the figure.." BBC 8 June

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 123.

    New data released in Germany strongly suggest that locally produced bean sprouts were, as suspected, the source of the deadly E. coli outbreak. (BBC)


    Poor, much maligned Spanish farmers. who of course won't be compensated in full by either by Germany or EU now.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 122.

    The Spinach EPEDEMIC" CNN 9/15/06
    "The Spinach EPEDEMIC" The SUN New York 10Oct.06
    "The Utah Spinach EPEDEMIC"..... and so on.





    Hardly possible since there is no such term as 'epedemic' either in American or British English.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 121.

    Dr Lo Wing Lok is an infectious disease specialist in Hong Kong. He said while infection can spread relatively easily due to the free travel of goods & people around the world, the measures one can take to protect oneself are also quite simple. Cook our vegetables & meat meat thoroughly before eating. E.coli is highly susceptible to heat.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 120.

    Outbreak has struck 14 countries. More than 1,600 patients have been diagnosed as being infected in Germany, with a further 630 said to be suffering from haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS), a life-threatening condition involving kidney malfunction. Taggesspiege (German Newspaper) said E.coli known as EAEC, is only found in humans, not animals.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 119.

    Once again a thread has been reduced to infantile pettiness and dumb conspiracy theories.

    Meanwhile the inept German authorities are still clueless. That's what happens when time is of the essence and you have to go through layer upon layer of bureaucracy. Hopefully the medical staff have got their act together by now.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 118.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 117.

    Some people are obviously unaware that all fruit and veggie varieties have been genetically modified by nature over many thousand years.

    Just like they cannot comprehend that the Earth climate has been constantly changing for millions of years. And started to change before there were even any human beings on the planet.

    I guess resorting to PC demagogy is much easier.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 116.

    Ever heard of "agro-terrorism" i.e. attempt by some frustrated elements of society to purposely poison the food chain causing mass scale disease, suffering & fatalities. Central Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI) has posed the theory. Food & drinks ready for shipment could be contaminated. The large number of (often cheap) foreign workers makes the problem more feasible.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 115.

    The recent outbreak of the E.coli -
    Take care!
    Next milk carton drink could make you fall sick, even bottled water could make you fall sick. Manufacturers & retailers of food products have been advised to be extremely cautious of contagions entering the food chain - not accidentally - but due to the values of some groups who are politically or ideologically motivated to cause harm.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 114.

    110 powermeer writes:
    "Those who call 5 deaths an "epidemic" should have perhaps not only their intestinal tracks examined."
    -----------
    Is that better?
    "We estimate that foodborne diseases cause approximately 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths in the United States each year." US Center for Disease Control

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 113.

    #109 /110 Popeye, FYI

    "EPEDEMIC curve" The dept. of Health& Human services USA.gov.
    "The Spinach EPEDEMIC" CNN 9/15/06
    "The Spinach EPEDEMIC" The SUN New York 10Oct.06
    "The Utah Spinach EPEDEMIC"..... and so on.

    Sorry chum your nice comment back to you!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 112.

    62.Eddy from Waring
    5th June 2011 - 14:20
    Given the obesity problem in the US, perhaps it might not be such a bad thing, if a few more over there were unable to keep their food down for a while...



    Fat chance. Too many perfectly safe mahi-mahis, salmons, shrimp, crabs, lobsters, cray-fish, scallops, avocados, corn-cobs, endives, artichokes and palm-hearts.

    Oh, and Texas beef. :-)))

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 111.

    new_germany
    5th June 2011 - 15:21
    An deliberate conspiracy from Germany against Spain has been covered up!


    Don't think it was a conspiracy. Just shear incompetence.

    And passing a buck.

    And in case of Russia a good pretext to protect its own agricultural sector.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 110.

    "Or the US Spinich epedemic in 2006 with 5 deaths."




    Those who call 5 deaths an "epidemic" should have perhaps not only their intestinal tracks examined.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 109.

    Spanish delegate Francisco Sosa Wagner held up a cucumber during his speech, saying: "We need to restore the honour of the cucumber." (BBC)



    Rightly so, particularly that so many German and Scandinavian women (most vulnerable to the current infection) use it so much for health reasons, including weight loss.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 108.

    106/107 Investigations in the US are much faster, more thorough.An e-coli outbreak at Taco Bell in South Plainfield a few years ago pinpointed the cause as fertilizer runoff contaminating lettuce from a farm out west somewhere in a couple of days. Since the highly touted Germans socialist medical system is overwhelmed by a few hundred cases of e-coli, what would happen in a real disaster?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 107.

    #41 US We´re just better".
    How about the green onion E.Coli outbreak in 2006 where lab tests mistakenly pointed to green onions.
    US investigators considered cheddar cheese and ground beef as the source before settling on lettuce!

 

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