Germany holds E-coli outbreak crisis talks

Meeting follows as many as 14 deaths from virulent strain of bacteria linked to imported cucumbers.

    Spain argues that there is no proof the bacteria originated with the vegetables [Reuters]

    German ministers and disease experts have met to discuss a bacterial outbreak that European health experts have called one of the biggest of its kind worldwide.

    The meeting in Berlin on Monday came amid fears that as many as 14 people have died in Germany from the deadly E-coli bacteria, while several hundred people are being treated in hospital.

    Daniel Bahr, Germany's health minister, said that authorities were still uncertain about the definitive source of the infection, although it is said to have originated from raw vegetables.

    Traces of the bacteria were found on organic cucumbers imported from Spain last week, sparking fears that this could be the source of the bacteria and prompting bans on Spanish produce.

    But Spain has said that there is no evidence to prove the infection began at the point of the vegetables' origin.

    Rosa Aguilar, Spain's agriculture minister, said the government would be seeking damages over allegations that the outbreak was caused by Spanish cucumbers, saying the country's image had been affected.

    "The image of Spain is being damaged, Spanish producers are being damaged and the Spanish government is not prepared to accept this situation," she said.

    "The damages to the Spanish sector are enormous," Aguilar told a news conference.

    Normally about 60 people in Germany a year contract HUS, which can cause bloody diarrhoea and serious liver problems. In some cases it can even cause seizures, strokes and coma.

    Imports banned

    Also on Monday, Russia moved to ban the import of all vegetables from Germany and Spain, and warned the sanction could be applied to the rest of Europe.

    "This measure stems from the outbreak in Germany of the acute intestinal infection caused by Enterohaemorrhagic E-coli (EHEC)," the country's consumer protection watchdog said.

    "If the situation does not change, then we will ban all European vegetable products," Gennady Onishchenko, the head of the agency, was quoted by local news agencies as saying.

    Southern Spanish authorities said that they had introduced restrictions on two distributors of organic cucumbers and Andalusia's regional council said suspect batches had been also been withdrawn.

    The European Commission said a batch of cucumbers originating either in The Netherlands or in Denmark, and traded in Germany, was also under investigation.

    Austrian health authorities warned on Sunday that a small number of Spanish cucumbers suspected of contamination with the bacteria are being recalled from stores.

    The Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety said that the cucumbers are the subject of an immediate recall that also applies to tomatoes and eggplants.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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