E. coli outbreak prompts political fights, calls for reform
Europe's inability to zero-in on the cause of an E. coli outbreak, which has been blamed for 23 deaths, has politicians pointing fingers and experts calling for more effective crisis management.
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About two weeks into the outbreak, Robert Koch Institute researchers established what EHEC patients in Hamburg had eaten – cucumbers, tomatoes, and lettuce. A week later, Hamburg’s health authorities named cucumbers from Spain as the source of the problem.Skip to next paragraph
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Five days later, this warning turned out to be wrong. And while federal health minister Daniel Bahr still maintained that cucumbers were the most-likely culprits, his colleague from the state of Lower Saxony already told the public that bean sprouts from an organic farm in Germany had carried the germs – both claims have yet to be proven.
“In our view, just one organization like the Robert Koch Institute should issue and retract health warnings,” says Mr. Etgeton. “I still think it was right to warn against Spanish cucumbers. But when the Hamburg authorities did, they meant to say German vegetables were safe. And that was irresponsible.”
Meanwhile in Luxembourg, EU agricultural ministers are gathering for an emergency meeting to discuss aid for Europe’s vegetable farmers, whose exports have been hit by the EHEC crisis, and to review the EU’s food safety alert system. Up to $220 million will be set aside to help farmers affected by the crisis, the ministers agreed.
Ahead of this meeting, EU health commissioner John Dalli addressed the European Parliament, warning against releasing unproven information on health scares. Mr. Dalli said: “The outbreak is limited geographically to the area surrounding Hamburg. There is no reason to take action on a European level.”
After Dalli’s speech, Spanish parliamentarian Francisco Sosa Wagner held up a cucumber and demanded: “We need to restore the honor of the cucumber.”