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

Multimedia Social Media Documenting, Not Driving, Hong Kong Protests

Unlike in Arab Spring uprisings, pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong aren't relying on Twitter and Facebook to organize, but social media still plays a role More

Analysis: Occupy Central Not Exactly Hong Kong’s Tiananmen

VOA's former Hong Kong, Beijing correspondent compares and contrasts 1989 Tiananmen Square protest with what is now happening in Hong Kong More

Bambari Hospital a Lone Place of Help in Violence-Plagued CAR

Only establishment still functioning in CAR's second city is main hospital 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.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
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