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Europe

Germany believes worst of E.coli outbreak is over

Video by Claire PRYDE

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-06-08

Germany announced Wednesday that the number of new E.coli cases in the country had begun to fall, suggesting that the worst of the deadly disease is over. On the same day the EU increased its aid package for affected farmers to 210 million euros.

AFP – Germany expressed hope Wednesday that the "worst" of a killer bacteria outbreak was over as the European Union upped its aid offer to farmers hit by government warnings against eating raw vegetables.

The number of new infections from a highly virulent strain of E. coli bacteria which has left at least 25 people dead and more than 2,600 ill was falling, German Health Minister Daniel Bahr said after crisis talks in Berlin.

             
And in Brussels, the European Commission hiked its offer of compensation to 210 million euros ($307 million) for vegetable producers whose sales have collapsed in the wake of the scare after criticism from affected member states.
             
Amid anger over Berlin's handling of the crisis and ongoing confusion as to its origin, European and German officials huddled in Berlin.
             
The meeting was attended by Bahr, Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner, counterparts from Germany's 16 states, public health institute officials and EU health commissioner John Dalli.
             
"We cannot give the all-clear but based on the evaluation of the data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI, the national health centre), there is reason for justified optimism that we have the worst behind us at the national level," Bahr told reporters after the meeting.
             
"For a few days, the number of new infections has continued to drop."
             
He added that Germany, which has seen all but one of the deaths from the lethal strain, would maintain its warning against eating raw tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers and sprouts until it finds the origin of the contamination.
             
RKI said it was not certain whether the decline in new cases was linked to consumers avoiding the blacklisted vegetables.
             
Confirmed infections in Germany stood at 2,648 Tuesday in the latest count, with 75 percent of cases in the north of the country.
             
In addition to the 25 deaths in Germany, one woman who had just returned from Germany died in Sweden. But infections have been reported in more than a dozen countries, with symptoms ranging from bloody diarrhoea to, in full-blown cases, kidney failure.
              
In light of the scare, the European Commission had asked EU states Tuesday to earmark 150 million euros in aid for ailing farms but drew immediate criticism that the amount was insufficient to cover the damage to the sector.
             
Tracking the rare, puzzling bacteria
Belgian Agriculture Minister Sabine Laruelle estimated producer losses to be "in the hundreds of millions of euros" after countries such as Russia outlawed vegetable imports and European consumers turned their backs on greens.
             
The Russian ban was expected to figure prominently at a summit meeting Thursday where EU leaders were to renew calls for an immediate about-face.
             
Spanish farmers, angry at their failure to sell their produce, gave away 40 tonnes of fruit and vegetables in protest in Madrid.
             
And the German association of fruit and vegetable growers (BVEO) urged authorities to refine their blanket warning against raw tomatoes, lettuce and cucumbers.
             
"A nuanced recommendation from the relevant officials would help keep economic damages in check," it said.
             
After European partners slammed Germany's public health warnings -- including a false alarm over Spanish imported cucumbers -- Dalli defended the country's management of the mysterious outbreak as "impressive".
             
But he said that as long as people were still dying, German authorities and their European partners had to zero in on its cause and called for better coordination between German and foreign experts.
             
"There is a clear sense of urgency," he said. "We need to be able to tell consumers that the food they eat and drink is safe."
             
Lower Saxony agriculture minister Gert Lindemann said experts had not found traces of the bacteria strain at an organic sprout farm on which suspicion had fallen at the weekend but he did not rule it out as the source of the contamination.
             
Aigner told parliament that "there were indications that led back from food eaten by patients to the farm" which meant that a warning not to eat sprouts should remain while investigators checked the whole supply chain.
             
And she reminded deputies that "in 78 to 80 percent of such cases a contaminant is never found" because of the time lapse between contamination and a disease outbreak.

Date created : 2011-06-08

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