News / Europe

Mistakes in Handling E.Coli Outbreak Cause Furor

As European agriculture ministers hold an emergency meeting about the continent's spiraling E. coli outbreak, Spain is demanding full compensation to its farmers, after Spanish cucumbers were incorrectly identified as the bacteria's source.  But even as scientists still scramble to diagnose the origin, experts say this outbreak's legacy could be the huge furor over mistaken claims and compensation from the European Union. A top World Heath Organization official says the source of Germany's deadly E. coli outbreak may never be known. Dr. Guenael Rodier, WHO's director of communicable diseases, tells the Associated Press that investigators must find the culprit within a week.  He says after that, it would become difficult to link patients with what they ate.  Rodier says the contaminated vegetables have probably already disappeared from the market.

First it was cucumbers from Spain, then bean sprouts from Germany that fell under suspicion. But European Union officials acknowledge they still do not know the precise source of an E. coli outbreak that has killed at least 23 people, mostly in Germany.

At first, German officials suggested organic cucumbers from southern Spain were to blame.  But that turned out to prove false, and cost Spanish farmers hundreds of millions of euros in lost revenue.  Russia and other countries banned vegetable imports from Spain and then the rest of Europe altogether.

Spain's agriculture minister, Rosa Aguilar, is demanding full compensation from Germany for her country's farmers.

Aguilar says Germany must reimburse Spain for its losses.  She says that if Germany covers 100 percent, which is what Spain is demanding, then the matter will be closed.  But otherwise, she says Spain reserves the right to take legal action.

Experts say the issue of compensating farmers is difficult, however, before the exact source of contamination is known.  David Heymann is a global health security expert and professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.  He says scientists are limited to testing the current vegetable supply - not the exact food that began sickening people two weeks ago.

"That doesn't mean that there could not have been contamination, for example, in the sprouts or in cucumbers.  The issue is that the studies that have been done on cucumbers that are available today, or on sprouts available today, have not shown that the organism is present.  But we're looking today, we're not looking two or three weeks back," Heymann said.

Nevertheless, the European agriculture commissioner has proposed a $220-million (150-million euro) aid package for farmers across Europe. That figure, if approved, would cover barely half of Spain's losses so far.  Still, the EU health commissioner, John Dalli, seemed to sympathize with Spain's position.

"I would like to stress that it is crucial that national authorities do not rush to give information on the source of infection, which is not proven by bacteriological analysis, as this spreads unjustified fears in the population all over Europe, and creates problems for our food producers selling products in the EU and outside of the EU," Dalli said.

Dalli told the European Parliament that scientists are still trying to pinpoint the outbreak's source.  He said that after officials jumped to conclusions about Spanish cucumbers, they should not do the same with German bean sprouts.

"While such intensive investigations are ongoing, we must be careful not to make premature conclusions.  In this respect, I want to refer to the latest information coming from Germany, regarding the suspicion that sprouts may be the source of contamination, which noted that tests have not been concluded and that consequently, premature conclusions have to be avoided," Dalli said.

After Dalli spoke, a Spanish delegate to the European Parliament waved a cucumber during his own speech, saying "We need to restore the honor of this vegetable."

Theatrics aside, scientists are still scrambling to find the bacteria's source, and European officials are trying to calm hysteria over further danger from E. coli.  More than 2,400 people are sick.  But Heymann says now that public health authorities are mobilized, they should be able to contain the outbreak - no matter the source.

"The source, if it can be found, is very useful because then you can prevent it from continuing or occurring again.  But even without the source, we know how to control this disease, and that's what's important.  Wash vegetables, wash fruits, be careful and cook them properly, and make sure that all surfaces on which these vegetables and fruits have been in contact, are cleaned as well," Heymann said.

Authorities say the outbreak is limited to northern Germany and people who have traveled there.  The EU health commissioner urged Russia and other countries to lift their import restrictions, saying they are not needed.

Heymann says the legacy of this E. coli outbreak, aside from 23 tragic deaths, could be how politicians jumped to conclusions about cucumbers or bean sprouts - devastating farmers' livelihoods, and prompting this huge compensation outcry.

"Because the statements are often made by politicians rather than public health people, they sometimes don't have all the evidence necessary, and they make a statement which later has to be rescinded.  What's important that in the future, the epidemiologists - the scientists, the technicians - work even closer with the politicians and the political leaders, to make sure that they're feeding messages that satisfy the political needs but which are also based on what evidence is available," Heymann said.

As EU ministers meet to quell the controversy, scientists say it is possible that they may never know the exact source of this E. coli outbreak.

You May Like

Anti-Terror Drills Highlight China’s Push Into Central Asia

China, Russia, several central Asian countries wrap up massive anti terrorism military drills in Inner Mongolia More

Erdogan’s First Step: Secure More Power in New Role in Turkey

Erdogan was sworn in as Turkey's first popularly elected president on Thursday; he picked former foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu as PM More

Pakistan Army Fails to Break Political Deadlock

PM Sharif claims he didn't ask army to defuse crisis; military rejects claim More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assaulti
X
Daniel Schearf
August 29, 2014 9:30 PM
After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.

AppleAndroid