Food poisoning survivors threaten suicide in Madrid art gallery

Protesters demand meeting with Spanish PM and funds for medical expenses of historic food poisoning scandal survivors.

Adulterated rapeseed oil harmed thousands of people across Spain in 1981 [Maria Altagracia Garcia/Handout via Reuters]

People who survived a mass food poisoning that took place in 1981 have occupied Madrid’s Del Prado art gallery, threatening to attempt suicide if their demands for aid and attention are not met.

A photo showed six people – one in a wheelchair – holding a banner in front of Las Meninas (The Maids of Honour), a painting by Spanish painter Diego Velazquez, inside the gallery on Tuesday. Others gathered outside.

“No more humiliation and abandonment,” said a statement posted to the Twitter account of an association for victims of the adulterated rapeseed oil that harmed thousands of people across Spain in 1981.

“Six hours after the start of our presence here, we will start ingesting pills,” warned the We Are Still Alive association, without giving a precise time.

The group is demanding a meeting with Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez by the end of October, and money to cover medical expenses for surviving victims.

One of the world’s biggest food poisoning scandals, the incident saw at least 5,000 people killed and 20,000 others affected, mostly with incurable conditions, the group claims.

‘We are sick’

There was no immediate comment from the Spanish government or the Prado.

The protesters said they chose the museum because culture had helped victims to cope.

“We are sick. Physically, we are 20 years older than our IDs say,” one woman said outside.

The substance that affected the protesters and others was originally for industrial use but was adulterated and illegally sold as olive oil, mostly in street markets, starting in Madrid then spreading to other areas.

Symptoms ranged from lung failure and limb deformation to the destruction of the body’s immune system.

Many survivors were crippled for life.

About 100,000 individuals were exposed and clinical disease occurred in 20,000 people, 10,000 of whom were hospitalised, according to the Science Direct website. More than 300 victims died, Science Direct claims.

Source: Reuters