Bean sprouts confirmed as cause of E coli panic
Published 11/06/2011 | 05:00
GERMANY has finally confirmed that locally grown bean sprouts are the cause of the E coli outbreak that has so far killed 30 people and made almost 3,000 ill.
The head of the country's national disease-control centre, Reinhard Burger, said that even though no tests of the sprouts from a farm in Lower Saxony had come back positive, the investigation of the pattern of the outbreak had produced enough evidence to draw the conclusion. "It is the sprouts," Mr Burger said.
He added that the institute was lifting its warning against eating cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce but keeping the warning in place for the sprouts.
The German authorities first blamed Spanish cucumbers, before extending health warnings to all raw vegetables -- sparking a consumer panic across Europe that has devastated the agriculture industry.
Germany was rebuked earlier this week for making the wild claims. John Dalli, the EU's food safety commissioner, attacked Germany for giving out unverified warnings on the cause of outbreak which triggered a consumer panic, now estimated to be costing European farmers €225m a week.
"It's crucial that national authorities don't rush to give information on the source of infection when it's not justified by the science," he said.
"That creates fears and problems for our food producers."
Freshfel Europe, an agriculture-industry group, published figures showing that sales of salad vegetables had stopped or plummeted across Europe after Germany wrongly blamed Spanish cucumbers for the deadly poisoning.
Cucumber sales either collapsed altogether or fell 80pc last week while trade in tomatoes dropped by 80pc and purchases of lettuce halved.
EU Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos proposed earlier this week that producers be given €210m in support, up from an initial plan for €150m.
As much as 80pc of vegetables are being destroyed in some areas because there is no market, according to Copa-Cogeca.
Health officials in the state of Lower Saxony on June 5 identified organic sprouts from a farm near Uelzen, Germany, as a possible source. Produce from the property, Gaertnerhof Bienenbuettel, was recalled and its customers were informed.
North Rhine-Westphalia investigators found the bacteria in an opened package of sprouts in the garbage of a home in the Rhein-Sieg area, where two of the household's three family members had eaten the vegetables and fallen ill with E coli in the middle of May.
"The sprouts originate, based on current knowledge, from the business in Bienenbuettel in Lower Saxony," the Dusseldorf- based ministry said in a statement. "That means that for the first time, an unbroken link between sprouts infected with O104 from the business in Bienenbuettel and people who have fallen ill has been found."