Spanish farmers say they have been losing around $286b per week since Germany's accusation [AFP]

European governments are scrambling to find the source of an E-coli outbreak that has killed at least 16 people and sickened more than 1,000 others in Germany, Sweden and other European nations.

The bacteria was first linked to contaminated Spanish cucumbers imported into Germany. But German officials said on Tuesday that recent tests have disproved the theory that the Spanish imports were the source of the deadly outbreak.

"Germany recognises that the Spanish cucumbers are not the cause," Robert Kloos, Germany's state secretary for agriculture said during an EU farm ministers meeting in Hungary.

The statement came a day after German ministers and disease experts met in Berlin to discuss the bacterial outbreak that health pundits have called one of the worst of its kind worldwide.

Health experts at the Stockholm-based European Centre for Disease prevention and Control (ECDC), which monitors disease in the EU, have identified the disease as hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS), a serious complication of a type of E-coli known as Shiga toxin-producing E-coli (STEC).

Diplomatic tensions

The outbreak has caused diplomatic tensions between Germany, Spain, France, and Russia - with Moscow banning some vegetable imports and threatening to extend the ban to the whole European Union.

Rosa Aguilar, Spain's agricultural minister, criticised Germany's original accusation of its cucumbers.

"Germany accused Spain of being responsible for the E-coli contamination in Germany, and it did it with no proof, causing irreparable damage to the Spanish production sector," she said.

Spanish media reported that Germany, Denmark, Czech Republic, Luxembourg, Hungary, Sweden, Belgium and Russia are blocking entry of Spanish cucumbers.

As a result, Spanish farmers have said they are losing around $286m per week in lost sales.

Aguilar said Madrid would be asking "for extraordinary measures to compensate for the huge losses imposed on the Spanish sector".

Source: Agencies