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EU officials struggle to find source of killer cucumbers

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-05-31

Spanish minister Rosa Aguilar has denied that cucumbers containing deadly E. coli bacteria came from her country, demanding that Berlin wrap up its probe into the contaminated food, which has killed 12 people in Germany, immediately.

AFP - EU agricultural ministers Monday struggled to come to terms with a deadly bacteria outbreak suspected of stemming from contaminated cucumbers that has already killed 12 in Germany.

"One problem with Spanish cucumbers, and all of Europe is trembling," Belgium's minister Sabine Laruelle said on the sidelines of an informal meeting in Debrecen, eastern Hungary.

At least 12 people have died in Germany following an outbreak of enterohaemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) found on imported cucumbers.

And several hundred more are being treated in hospitals for the highly virulent strain of bacteria, which can result in full-blown haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS), a disease that causes bloody diarrhoea and serious liver damage and which can result in death.

Around Europe, other cases -- real or suspected -- have been reported in Denmark, Sweden, Britain, the Netherlands, Austria, France and Switzerland, all of them apparently stemming from Germany.

Dutch agriculture minister Henk Bleker said Monday he could "understand the German authorities' attitude," after they recommended that people avoid raw vegetables, especially those coming from northern Germany, where most of the deaths have been reported.

At the same time, he noted this had led to a drastic drop in demand, with Dutch vegetable exports towards Germany -- which usually amount to some 10 million euros ($14.2 million) per week -- had "virtually stopped" since Sunday.

Suspicions have so far rested on Spain but Bleker admitted it was still unclear what the source of the outbreak was.

Meanwhile, Spanish minister Rosa Aguilar, speaking from Madrid, denied that the contamination could have come from Spain.

"From the beginning, in Germany, Spanish cucumbers have been named as responsible for this situation. We must say that it is not true and we must demand that the Germany authorities wrap up their investigation immediately."

However, the results of the probe are not expected before Tuesday or Wednesday, officials said.

While awaiting the probe results, Europe's agriculture commissioner Dacian Ciolos praised the efficient warning and tracking system which allowed the problem to be identidied quickly.

But Finland's minister Sirkka-Liisa Anttila was less positive.

"The current crisis shows that there are still holes in the system of checks because an incident like this should have never occurred," she said.

Date created : 2011-05-31

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