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Revenge of the Killer Cucumbers

By Mr Grumpy - Thu 2th Jun 2011

Once again Europe seems to have gone mad.

Last Friday much of the media was in a frenzy reporting about the Killer Cucumbers from Spain, and how they had (at that time) been responsible for about 9 deaths in the Hamburg area of Northern Germany. The German Health Minister gave a statement declaring not only the cause of the infection as being cucumbers, but the source as being Spain.

The cause of the deaths was hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) which is complication arising from being infected with the EHEC strain of e.coli, where symptoms include bloody diarrhoea and in severe cases Kidney malfunctioning, coma and death.

There are many strains of E.coli, and many of them occur naturally within the human body, it is only a few strains that can cause upset stomachs, about only around 10% of cases which go on to develop the HUS complications.

The problem was that the dramatic number of cases been admitted that developed HUS was unprecedented - was this a new strain of e.coli, or a particularly aggressive version of a bacteria on a badly infected food source ?

As the Infection claimed it's ninth Fatality in two weeks, maybe panic took hold, and as such the German authorities started to dish out the blame.

On Friday of last week the finger of blame pointed squarely at two Spanish farms - one in Almeria and one in Murcia. And the various faceless European health agencies were sent in to investigate.

Nobody seemed to think it odd that one of the accused farms did not despatch their consignment of cucumbers until after the infection had taken its grip.

As Germany banned cucumbers and other vegetable import from Spain, nine other European countries blindly followed suit.

If the scientists could have ascertained that Cucumbers in general, let alone Spain as a whole or the two farms in question, were the sole cause of the infection then the problem could have been dealt with quickly and effectively. However, replication of the strains in a laboratory environment takes an estimated 5 to 7 days. So the jury was still out.

However, unlike in a court room, the accused WAS NOT innocent until being proven guilty. The suspicion of doubt had already been spoken and an estimated 200 Million Euros worth of produce had been lost, together with an estimated 550 jobs by Wednesday morning.

By this time the infection had claimed it's 17th victim in 3 different countries and cases were being reported in Spain, the UK and Scandinavian countries. Many of those affected by the illness reported NOT eating cucumbers but they all either lived in, or had recently travelled to Germany.

On Wednesday morning word came back from the Germans, supported by some other faceless European Agency that nobody has heard of before, that the Spanish Cucumbers were not the cause of the infection. However, the import bans remained in place.

WHY then do the import bans remain in place ? Yes, it looks likely that the infection could result from fruit & veg but Spain seems to be the only country that has undergone rigorous testing and has been ruled out as the source of the infection. The only European country that has so far. If it was me I would buy my salad from nowhere other than Spain - at least I know that the salad here IS safe !

Secondly, WHERE is the source of infection ? If Germany had kept an open mind as to where the source could lie, and did not close their minds to another possibility over a week ago, then maybe we would have had an answer by now. As it stands, they lost valuable time in pursuing one 'suspect', only to have to begin their investigation from the start once he had been ruled out (I watch too many Crime Dramas on TV, I know)

Thirdly, HOW does Germany propose to compensate Spain for the loss of 550 jobs and 200 Million in lost produce (So far - who knows what the long term effects of this will be) on a country with an already fragile economy ? - I know that if I openly accused a business or an individual of something without any evidence the Libel or defamation lawyers would sue the pants off me. Surely the same should be the case with Deutschland ?

Finally, and most importantly, WHAT steps are the faceless health Agencies putting in place to ensure that, once the source AND cause of the infection have been found, that such a thing is prevented from happening again.

Comment on this Blog

Why are the forces of supply and demand ignored in Spain ? I was in my supermarket at the weekend and bought a cucmber - one of crate loads on offer. Rather than special offers being made to encourage sales of the product following weeks of bad press, the Supermarket in their wisdom were selling the product for 15 cents MORE than they did before the crisis.
Mr Grumpy - Mon, 13th Jun 2011
GO MR GRUMPY! Couldn't agree more, (and definitely my favourite headline of the year so far)...
Penny Lapenna - Thu, 2nd Jun 2011

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