News / Europe

Spain Underscores Food Safety Amid E. Coli Outbreak

A farm worker holds cucumbers in a greenhouse in Algarrobo, near Malaga, southern Spain, May 31, 2011
A farm worker holds cucumbers in a greenhouse in Algarrobo, near Malaga, southern Spain, May 31, 2011
Lauren Frayer

While European investigators probe the origin of a deadly E. Coli outbreak, Spanish farmers are angry that their produce has been identified as a possible source - with devastating effects to their livelihood.  

Turn on the television in Spain this week and you are likely to see politicians chomping on cucumbers and smiling. They are trying to convince the public - and the rest of Europe - that Spain's agriculture is safe.

But 15 people have died in Germany and one in Sweden from an E. coli outbreak that German officials initially linked to imported Spanish cucumbers.  Hundreds of others are sick, in what has become one of the largest E. Coli outbreaks in the world.

Germany, Belgium and Russia have all banned Spanish vegetable imports, pending an investigation.  But Spain's agriculture minister accused them of jumping to conclusions too early, without proof of the deadly bacteria's origin. Now, even German officials say they are not so sure.

Spanish farmers fear the damage to their livelihoods is already done, with millions of euros in losses that threaten to destabilize the whole country's already-ailing economy.  Vanessa Rossi, an economist at London's Chatham House think tank, says Spain is one of the largest cucumber exporters in the world and, by far, the biggest in Europe.

"Potentially they have something like five percent of GDP (gross domestic product) at risk over these exports, and that's a considerable problem when you're looking at an economy trying to recover," said Rossi.

José María Pozancos is the director-general of the Spanish Federation of Fruit and Vegetable Exporters.  He told a local Madrid radio station that his industry's losses could reach 200 million euros a week, if hysteria about Spanish cucumbers continues to spread across Europe.

He says he is very worried and angry and that all the information that has been confirmed, so far, points to a contamination problem in Hamburg, Germany - not with Spanish fruit and vegetables inside Spain.

The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control is still investigating whether that is the case. But, as diplomatic tensions rise, the ECDC refuses to comment on its investigation.

Nevertheless, there is a long chain of growers, packagers, exporters and importers that all work to put foreign produce on local supermarket shelves.  Investigators are likely probing each and every link between cucumber farms in Spain's southern Andalusia region and supermarkets in northern Germany.  

Outbreaks of disease in food have the potential to wreak havoc on economies worldwide.  Thailand lost billions of dollars in chicken exports when avian flu spread through the country in 2004.  British beef has also been banned from the rest of Europe, at various times, during outbreaks of mad cow disease there.  Spanish leaders want to avoid that same fate, and some are calling for compensation.  

Rossi says the idea of compensating farmers for lost revenue is something European leaders in Brussels might have to scramble to address.

"In these circumstances, I don't know that there is any particularly policy from the agricultural fund in Brussels to be able to make compensation. I don't think there's a normal expectation that these kinds of issues arise, so I'm not sure what they have for a crisis mechanism,” she said. “ Possibly there could be some aid given.  Or the Spanish government would have to promise aid, but, of course, that would be extremely costly, if they have to put that on their fiscal deficit when they're already struggling with high debt."

Governments are still waiting for definitive word on the E. Coli outbreak's source.  Meanwhile, the first suspected domestic case of the disease has now surfaced northern Spain - a 40-year-old man who had recently traveled to Germany.

You May Like

Cambodia Seeks Official UN Maps for Vietnam Border

Notice of request comes as 2 countries open border talks Tuesday after a clash last month More

From South Africa to Vietnam, Cyclists Deliver Message Against Rhino Horns

Appalled by poaching they saw firsthand, sisters embark on tour to raise awareness in countries where rhino horn products are in demand More

Uber Wants Johannesburg Police Protection

Request follows recent protests outside ride-hailing service's Johannesburg office 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.
Getting it Done Beyond a Nuclear Deali
X
July 07, 2015 12:02 PM
If a nuclear deal is reached between Iran and world powers in Vienna, it will be a highly technical road map to be used to monitor nuclear activity in Iran for years to come to ensure Tehran does not make nuclear weapons. Equally as complicated will be dismantling international sanctions that were originally intended to be ironclad. VOA’s Heather Murdock talks to experts about the key challenges any deal will present.
Video

Video Getting it Done Beyond a Nuclear Deal

If a nuclear deal is reached between Iran and world powers in Vienna, it will be a highly technical road map to be used to monitor nuclear activity in Iran for years to come to ensure Tehran does not make nuclear weapons. Equally as complicated will be dismantling international sanctions that were originally intended to be ironclad. VOA’s Heather Murdock talks to experts about the key challenges any deal will present.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.

VOA Blogs