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EU Tallies Human & Economic Damages From O104 Outbreak

Bureaucrats in Brussels have tallied up the damage last year’s E. coli O104:H4 outbreak did to the European fruit and vegetable business and threatened to use European Union law to make sure it does not happen again.

Yet, the newly released “Commission Staff Working Document” into “lessons learned” about the 2011 outbreak probably won’t shake up the EU.  The recommendations seem more likely to generate yawns than controversy among EU members.

It probably does not help that the draft report mistakenly lists June 2012, not 2011, as the date of the Bordeaux part of the deadly fenugreek seed-caused O104:H4 outbreak.

The O104 outbreak was centered on Northern Germany, peaking around May 22, 2011, with the Bordeaux part of the outbreak following mostly in June.  Germany experienced the brunt of the outbreak with 3,842 infections, including 855 with hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) and 53 deaths.

Another 137 cases throughout Europe, including 54 HUS cases and 2 deaths were connected to the E. coli O104 outbreak.  According to the “lessons learned” report, 31 of those cases–including 7 HUS cases–were in the Bordeaux region of France.

After dissecting what happened, the Commission staff seems mainly concerned about improving coordination and communication next time, something that seems to be a fairly common EU problem.

The European Commission wore several hats during the outbreak.   Even while the food safety crisis continued, the EU mechanics were working to deal with financial losses to Euro fruit and vegetable growers and chart an economic recovery for the section.

The report says losses totaled 812.6 million euros, mostly to Spain, Italy, Poland, The Netherlands, Germany, Greece, France and Belgium.   The Commission’s 27 member counties declared damages of 226.2 million euros, and the EU reimbursed 178.2 million euros.

Most went to the same list of impacted counties for distribution to fruit and vegetable producers.  Lost sales, low prices, and overcapacity led to the claimed damages.

“Arguably the biggest was on the image of fresh produce,” says the report.

Egyptian-grown sprouts were the cause of 2011 outbreak and the commission staff made several recommendations for improving the safety of sprouts and other  “food of non-animal origin.”  These included:

-Strengthening the EU’s ability to protect citizens against cross border health threats.

-Increasing hygiene awareness for foods of non-animal origin.

-Improving preparedness for all key players involved in outbreaks.

-Better coordination and closer communication.

-Improving market intervention and product promotion tools to limit negative economic impacts.

-Strengthening public-private initiatives for citizen/consumer awareness.

-Increasing respect for all roles involved in an outbreak.

The report points out that the EU has general, hygiene, and preparedness and monitoring legislative authorities.  While it provides examples of how that authority is used, it is not clear about how that authority might be used in the future because of the E. coli O104 outbreak.

© Food Safety News
  • Ted

    Organic sprouts produced by a local German organic farmer killed 50 and severely sickened thousands of innocent food consumers just one year ago. That was notably more human morbidity & mortality than the Fukishima nuclear disaster AND the BP oil platform explosion & oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico COMBINED.
    Quite a contrast on how each of these disasters have been managed in the aftermath. And the disparity was accurately predicted by, of all people, traders in the markets who remarked nuclear energy and offshore oil exploration both would be shut down at least temporarily but not so organic farming.
    http://blogs.marketwatch.com/fundmastery/2011/06/11/nuclear-meltdowns-oil-spills-or-bean-sprouts/
    Say what you will to disparage market traders but they do tend to know which way the political winds blow, and even they noticed the stench of sacred organic fertilizer wafting in on the breeze.
    Japanese investigations of the nuclear disaster are just now being reported and they are scathing — heads are rolling. BP and affiliate oil drilling corporations have been scrutinized, chastised and rightly made to repay, restore and rebuild the Gulf coast until tourism has now largely returned to the region. But have organic produce growers been held responsible in any fashion, any at all? Is their product even being tested for fecal contamination, a seemingly small preventive gesture? Nope. No accountability, no regulation, no intervention, no prevention, no sense at all. None whatsoever. Go figure. I guess we know which side our organic vegetables are slathered on.

  • Nanc

    Try that prejudicial “bending of the facts” again, Ted, this time with the facts. Organic farming certainly did not cause the outbreak and neither did the sprout grower — contaminated sprout SEED from Egypt was pinpointed as the cause.
    Meanwhile ask around the Gulf and you’ll find BP got off super-lightly for all the environmental and economic damage they caused — no BP heads rolling there — while the Gulf the fishing industry remains devastated and tourism is on the (oil slicked) rocks.
    And FYI — organic produce is prohibited from using dangerous toxic pesticides, raw manure and sewage sludge and organic livestock must be raised without antibiotics or chicken manure as a feed, just for starters — which are all a part of agribusiness as usual producing for the standard conventional food supply — talk about “no prevention, no sense at all….”

  • Ted

    Organic methods do have a wonderfully enchanting way of inoculating and nurturing pathogens of all sorts, including fecal pathogens. Especially fecal pathogens because we’ve been conditioned to expect some organic fertilizer fecal contamination of organic foods.
    Until large numbers of people are poisoned to death by organic food we discount the significance of fecal contamination, and even then…
    http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2011/05/spanish-cucumbers-blamed-for-outbreak-in-germany/
    http://www.euronews.com/2011/05/27/german-e-coli-linked-to-spanish-cucumbers/
    http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2011/06/its-not-about-the-sprouts/
    http://news.sciencemag.org/scienceinsider/2011/05/cucumbers-may-be-culprit-in-mass.html
    http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2012/07/spanish-produce-paid-a-price-for-europes-o104-outbreak/

  • Nanc

    Gee Ted since you’ve gone to all that trouble to (falsely) depict organic products as inherently unsafe — it would be great to show a side-by-side listing of all the negative stories that have appeared in FSN about toxic contamination in the industrialized food system…
    And truth be told (not by Ted obviously) the fecal contamination Ted fears is actually coming from the Industrialized Food System — since Organic is the ONLY label that PROHIBITS manure, sewage sludge, antibiotics, toxic pesticides, ETC ETC

  • Michael Bulger

    In the US, certified Organic agriculture uses less raw manure than conventional agriculture. Organic regulations also have greater federal regulation of the use of raw manure. To date, there is no data that allows the conclusion which states that certified organic practices are any more hazardous than conventional practices. As such, the USDA recognizes no difference in food safety risks between organic and conventional foods.
    Of course, if you call Dennis Avery, you might be able to get someone to make things up. And then our resident troll will work feverishly to repost said fantasies under various pseudonyms. http://ucce.ucdavis.edu/files/datastore/234-208.pdf

  • jon

    Ted seems to think fertilizers are nice and safe and clean and proclaims those organic farmers use dirty, ickie manure. Well… beyond what Nanc has posted about organic farmers being the only growers who are PROHIBITED from using manure — there’s this award winning series from the seattle times (via http://www.safefoodand fertilizers.com)
    Ted — so where do you think fertilizers (that are taken up by crops) come from — “pure” lab chemicals??? See below. And remember while human waste can be treated in Sewage Sludge — the product also contains tons of untreatable heavy metals and other toxic elements from the industrial waste stream that also goes into the sewage treatment plants..
    From the Seattle times:
    “Manufacturing industries are disposing of hazardous wastes by turning them into fertilizer to spread around farms. And they’re doing it legally.
    “It’s really unbelievable what’s happening, but it’s true,” Martin said. “They just call dangerous waste a product, and it’s no longer a dangerous waste. It’s a fertilizer.”
    Across the Columbia River basin in Moxee City is visual testimony to Martin’s assertion. A dark powder from two Oregon steel mills is poured from rail cars into the top of silos attached to Bay Zinc Co. under a federal permit to store hazardous waste.
    The powder, a toxic byproduct of the steel-making process, is taken out of the bottom of the silos as a raw material for fertilizer.
    “When it goes into our silo, it’s a hazardous waste,” said Bay Zinc President Dick Camp. “When it comes out of the silo, it’s no longer regulated. The exact same material. Don’t ask me why. That’s the wisdom of the EPA.”
    What’s happening in Washington is happening around the United States. The use of industrial toxic waste as a fertilizer ingredient is a growing national phenomenon, an investigation by The Seattle Times has found.
    The Times found examples of wastes laden with heavy metals being recycled into fertilizer to be spread across crop fields.
    Legally.”
    BTW — organic PROHIBITS chemical fertilizers and sewage sludge along with manure.

  • Ted

    Attempting to change the subject with all your hectic thrashing and dithering over safe effective modern fertilizers, so how will that prevent fecal contamination of organic foods?
    You know, fancy pants boutique junk like those organic Spanish cucumbers or these truly deeeelightful “local” Oregon strawberries…
    http://www.marlerblog.com/case-news/oregon-strawberry-e-coli-outbreaks—it-really-was-bambi-that-did-it/
    http://www.marlerblog.com/case-news/jaquith-strawberry-farm-strawberries-linked-to-e-coli-outbreak/
    Distract and obfuscate all you will, organic and small farm produce can make people sick. It can even kill them, as the families of 50 Germans learned the hard way last summer. None of your cherry-picked “research” will resurrect even one of those poor innocent deceased organic sprout eaters.
    And it’s looking like we have learned nothing from that deadly outbreak, nothing at all. We will wait around until some little ol’ organic farmer poisons Americans on the scale of the German disaster, and still we will do nothing to rein in dangerous myths surrounding local and organic production. We will not even test it for safety! Instead we will all dutifully recite the voluntary “manure prohibitions”, cite some more cherrypicked faux “research” and secretly keep out fingers crossed hoping it isn’t one of our own family done in by fashion food next time.
    Heh, “prohibited”. Yeah, that should work, just like verbal rules and a handshake worked to keep Barclays Bank from cheating on LIBOR rates and J.P. Morgan from gambling with billions in client’s money. Yup, those voluntary organic manure prohibitions are ironclad but fecal contamination will continue to occur.
    Some of this organic stuff is proven to kill you. Where are all of those hand-wringing believers in the Precautionary Principle now?

  • Minkpuppy

    Nanc: You are absolutely right about BP. They haven’t done such a great job in the Gulf or in this area of Texas for that matter. They’re still settling that lawsuit from the big refinery explosion over here that killed a bunch of their employees.
    Safety and paying up when they screw up are not BP’s strong suit. Countless people affected by the spill are still waiting for compensation for their lost livelihoods. Those in the know around here laugh when the BP “open for business” commercials come on. Only a select few have been repaid for their losses. A lot of little guys are still waiting and still getting screwed.
    The fishermen in the Gulf region have taken a huge hit. Fish, shrimp and oysters are still being affected by the lovely dispersants and oil still floating around out there. The oysters are small and struggling in the beds that weren’t completely wiped out. Shrimping has been shut off in areas along the Texas coast because the fields have been overfished to compensate for the lack of shrimp from the spill area. The Scientists and fishermen alike are reporting deformed sea life and dolphins have been washing up dead on beaches throughout the Gulf region.
    But FDA and the EPA says deformed, mutant Lousiana/Alabama/Mississippi seafood is A-OK and safe to eat! They wouldn’t be lying would they TED?
    I think I’ll stick with the seafood sourced out of Texas. Luckily, I have that choice because I live within minutes of seafood markets supplied by Texas shrimpers and oystermen. Now if we could just get the idiot poachers to quit fishing in closed areas…

  • Michael Bulger

    Actually, organic standards do allow for the use of manure. The manure must be properly composted, or it must be applied to the field 90-120 days (depending upon the type of crop being grown) before the crop is harvested. These two requirements significantly lower the risk that a persistent pathogen will survive. These restrictions do not apply to growers who are not seeking organic certification..

  • Joanie

    TEDious — good luck with your over-the-top anti-organic ranting — maybe you can keep yourself on board as a believer — and enjoy those heavy metals in your food from your “safe” chemical fertilizers…

  • Rachel

    Could Michael Bulger please call Dennis Avery and get the recipe for the “manure tea” organic farmers brew up to fertilize their organic crops, the one that’s described in Michael’s link?
    Organic “manure tea”…hmmmm….if that’s what I suspect it is, well, well I’ll be dipped….we all are being dipped when we purchase organic veggies, apparently. Yuck!!

  • Jim Brown

    Michael B., I agree with you quite often but I am pretty certain that non-organic farms have to comply with the 90-120 day manure rule as well (when applicable). Anyway, I enjoy your entries.