EU rules out cucumber, travel bans despite 'serious' E. coli

1st June 2011, Comments 0 comments

Europe's top health official said Wednesday that a killer bacteria outbreak in Germany was "serious," but ruled out the need to ban cucumber sales or travel to its Hamburg epicentre.

European Union health commissioner John Dalli said further testing was needed to pinpoint the source of the outbreak after an initial false diagnosis that has spread fear among consumers and wreaked havoc on vegetable markets.

"Over the past few days, we have been facing a serious crisis," Malta's Dalli told a news briefing in Brussels, promising new test results "either later today or tomorrow."

As the death and infected toll mounts in Germany and elsewhere, he warned it was also now "a question of people remembering what they've eaten in the last 10 days, and where."

As producers whose sales have plummeted threaten lawsuits, though, Dalli said bans on cucumber sales or travelling to northern Germany would be a "disproportionate" response.

"The outbreak is limited geographically to an area surrounding the city of Hamburg," he said, adding that "it appears that the outbreak is on the decline."

"Fewer people have been hopitalised over the past couple of days than before," he added, citing the latest EU figures giving nine confirmed deaths in Germany and one in Sweden. Germany cites at least 16 dead related to the virulent strand of E. coli.

Dalli said 373 people had developed full-blown haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS), a condition associated with bloody diarrhoea and kidney failure.

"We would therefore consider any ban on any product as disproportionate," he insisted.

Equally, he maintained: "I would not say that it would be proportionate to tell people not to visit Hamburg."

Neither German nor EU officials have so far been able to pinpoint exactly the root cause.

Spain and the Netherlands are demanding compensation from the European Union because of a sudden slump in vegetable exports.

Dalli said he was working with Dacian Ciolos, the EU's agriculture commissioner, in "seeking all possible legal ways in which an assistance can be given" to vegetable producers left out of pocket.

Spain's Deputy Prime Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba told a radio station Wednesday that Madrid could sue Hamburg for damages already estimated at more than 200 million euros ($290 million).

© 2011 AFP

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