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

At Khmer Rouge Court, Long-Awaited Verdict Approaches

First phase of trial, which is coming to an end, has focused on forced exodus of Phnom Penh in 1975 - and now many are hopeful justice will be served More

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities More

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

Downing of Malaysian airliner, allegations of cross-border shelling move information war in war-torn country to a new level 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.
Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
July 31, 2014 8:13 PM
The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.

AppleAndroid