Spanish vegetable sellers vent rage in Germany
Spanish vegetable exporters vented their anger Friday in this northern German city, the epicentre of a deadly E. coli outbreak, over a false alarm about their produce that has hit them hard.
Antonio Lavao, general manager of Malaga-based Frunet, said his livelihood has been destroyed by the mistaken warning by Hamburg authorities that imported organic Spanish cucumbers were to blame for the spread of the lethal bacteria.
"All the media were screaming 'killer cucumbers'," he told a news conference with other Spanish food sellers affected by the scare.
"Other companies have been able to slowly resume operations. But we were named (by German authorities as a source of contamination). Our reputation is destroyed."
Officials acknowledged this week that while the cucumbers they tested showed traces of enterohaemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC), which can cause diarrhoea and vomiting, they were not of the virulent strain that has killed at least 18 people in Europe.
"It's not just cucumbers, it's all the vegetables. We cannot work, there is nothing happening at our business," said Lavao, whose company employs 120 people.
"I'm not angry at the Germans because Germany is one of my best markets. I'm more tired, all my life has been destroyed in the last five days."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel defended the false warning against Spanish cucumbers in a phone call Thursday with Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, saying authorities were "duty-bound to inform the public at all times."
The advisory left tens of thousands of tonnes of Spanish produce unsold, costing growers an estimated 200 million euros ($290 million) a week.
Both Berlin and Madrid said they had agreed to seek compensation at European level. Farmers in other countries have also complained that they have been affected as several countries announced vegetable import bans.
© 2011 AFP