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Europe
Rate of E. coli infections 'slowing down'
German health minister says outbreak that has killed at least 24 people and sickened thousands, could be abating.
Last Modified: 08 Jun 2011 18:44

Farmers across Europe have suffered losses in sales of exports due to the outbreak [Reuters]

The rate of new E. coli infections in Germany is slowing down, the country's health minister has said, as crisis talks on the deadly outbreak are due to go ahead.

At least 24 people have been killed and more than 2,300 people sickened by the strain of E. coli bacteria, but officials are still unclear as to the source of the outbreak.

"I can't yet cancel the warnings, but we now have reasons to hope as the number of new infections is continuously dropping," Daniel Bahr, the German minister, told ARD public television.

"There will likely still be new cases, and we must unfortunately still reckon with new deaths, but the number of new infections is clearly dropping, and the worst of the illness is behind us."

Emergency talks will take place in Berlin, the German capital, later on Wednesday among Bahr, the German consumer affairs minister and regional ministers, and John Dalli, the EU health commissioner.

Dalli has called for closer co-operation between German and foreign experts in fighting the outbreak.

"We must count on the experience and expertise of all of Europe and even beyond Europe," he said in an interview with Die Welt newspaper.

"I cannot overstate how important it is that we should all closely co-operate and share our common knowledge to bring to an end this outbreak as fast as possible."

Vegetable sales hit

Health experts have criticised Germany for its investigation into the outbreak, which began on May 2.

Officials initially blamed Spanish cucumbers for the crisis, which crippled the country's exports, and now an investigation into bean sprout farms has failed to provide any clear answers.

Bahr has said that the source of the infection may never been found.

Spanish farmers dump produce in protest

A warning against eating cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce and vegetable sprouts is still in place.

Consumers are avoiding vegetables and fruit in general - with grocery stores in Germany reporting losses of between 30 to 40 per cent in sales of fresh produce, the daily Bild reported.

The European Commission proposed on Tuesday a compensation package of $219m for farmers hit by the outbreak, but some producers have said it was not enough.

Spain, which has already estimated that it has lost $256m in exports among its growers, said it wanted 100 per cent of the real market value of the losses.

Farmers in the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, France and Portugal have also been affected.

Source:
Agencies
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