E. coli outbreak calls for EU efforts: French official

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The recent outbreak of killer E. coli bacteria highlights the need for more vigilance in food inspections and a common EU policy, French Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire said Friday.

"The first lesson that I see from this crisis is that we cannot let down our guard in terms of sanitation and security of food," said Le Maire, who was in Washington for G20 meetings.

He said now is not the time to scrimp on inspections, despite calls from some countries to do so.

"We need total food security... There is a cost to this," said Le Maire.

"Some countries in Europe want to cut the budget for the Common Agricultural Policy and to renationalize agriculture policies, which would mean each country would set its own rules. That's exactly the wrong direction to take," he said.

The French minister said he would ask the EU to indemnify French fruit and vegetable producers losing money because of consumer panic.

His comments came amid a puzzling outbreak of E. coli poisoning that has now spread to 12 countries with the death toll at 19.

All but one of the fatalities since the outbreak of enterohaemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) poisoning began last month have occurred in Germany. A patient who died in Sweden had recently returned from Germany.

© 2011 AFP

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