Spain denies blame in killer cucumber crisis

Reuters/Jon Nazca

Spain has denied that its cucumbers are to blame for the deadly outbreak of E.coli infection which has killed 14 people in Germany and one person in Sweden. Agriculture minister Rosa Aguilar said there was no evidence to prove the infection started at the vegetable’s origin in Spain rather than handling elsewhere. 


The source of the outbreak is still unknown, but contaminated vegetables appear the most likely vehicle for the infection. Germany said it had detected the potentially deadly bacteria on organic cucumbers imported from two producers in southern Spain’s Andalucia region.

The Spanish government rejected the claim pointing out there had been no cases of E.coli infection within the country.

Almost all of Europe has stopped buying Spanish fruit and vegetables because of the E.coli scare and Aguilar warned the estimated loss to vegetable sales in Spain could reach more than 200 million euros a week.

Speaking on Tuesday at a meeting of EU agricultural ministers in Hungary, she said she would seek compensation from the European Union.

“Today, we have to present the issue as a common problem and have to ask for a compensation not only for Spanish producers but for all the European producers concerned by the situation,” she said.

Figures from Fepex, Spain’s fruit and vegetable producer-exporter federation, show the country exported 9.4 million tonnes of fruit and vegetables in 2010, of which the biggest share, 24 per cent, went to Germany.

Enterohaemorrhagic E. coli can result in full-blown haemolytic uraemic syndrome, a disease that causes bloody diarrhoea and serious liver damage and which can result in death.

On Tuesday, a woman in her 50s who was infected with E.coli in Germany died in Sweden becoming the first death from the bacteria outside Germany. So far 14 people have died in Germany and a 40-year-old man who recently returned from the country is in intensive care in Spain.

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

Meanwhile, Belgium and Russia have banned vegetable imports from Spain.

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