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

As US Strikes Syria, China Sees Parallels at Home

Beijing is debating how much support to give international coalition against IS militants and trying to figure out how many Chinese nationals may have joined group overseas More

CDC: Ebola Could Infect 1.4 M by 2015

US health officials say if efforts to curb the outbreak are not increased, cases will soar dramatically by early next year More

Video USAID Provides $231 Million for Girls Education in 5 Countries

US Agency for International Development partners with celebrities to call attention to importance of education for girls worldwide 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.
NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbiti
X
September 22, 2014 9:20 PM
NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbit

NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video For West Ukraine City, Conflict Far Away Yet Near

The western Ukrainian city of Lviv prides itself on being both physically and culturally close to Western Europe. The Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country are 1,200 kilometers away, and seemingly even farther away in their world view. Still, as VOA’s Al Pessin reports, the war is having an impact in Lviv.
Video

Video Saving Global Fish Stocks Starts in the Kitchen

With an estimated 90 percent of the world’s larger fish populations having already vanished, a growing number of people in the seafood industry are embracing the concept of sustainable fishing and farming practices. One American marine biologist turned restaurateur in Thailand is spreading the word among fellow chefs and customers. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Chinese Admiral Key in China’s Promotion of Sea Links

China’s President last week wrapped up landmark visits to India, Sri Lanka and Maldives, part of a broader campaign to promote a new “Maritime Silk Road” in Asia. The Chinese government’s promotion efforts rely heavily on the country’s best-known sailor, a 15th century eunuch named Zheng He. VOA's Bill Ide reports from the sailor’s hometown in Yunnan on the effort to promote China’s future by recalling its past.
Video

Video Experts Fear Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid