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Spanish Farmers Paid a Price for Europe’s E. coli O104 Outbreak

The Murcia region in southeastern Spain, where the Segura River is found, is known as Europe’s orchid because of its abundant production of fruits, vegetables and flowers.

But Murcia is coming off a down year because of a variety of factors, not the least of which was the virulent E. coli outbreak last spring centered in northern Germany that resulted in some false alarms pointing fingers at produce that turned out not to be responsible for the outbreak, before European health officials finally settled on sprouts.

Before imported Egyptian-grown fenugreek seeds were found to be the source of the deadly 2011 E. coli O104:H4 outbreak, raw cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce were all suspected sources. These foods were either banned from countries outside Germany or slowed from crossing borders.

Combined with Europe’s economic crisis and international market competition, the E. coli outbreak cut agricultural income from the Murcia region by 11.3 percent for the 2010-2011 growing season.

German, French and English markets are the main consumers of produce grown in the the Murcia region. In a report by the Cajamar Foundation, a subsequent marketing campaign for the region worked for apricot, peach, and table grapes, but not so much for melons, tomatoes, lemons and oranges.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said the outbreak involved at least 4,125 cases in 16 countries, including 908 with hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS) and 50 deaths.

© Food Safety News
  • keen observer

    Ahhh, but weren’t organic Spanish cucumbers cultured positive for e.coli early in the investigation?
    http://www.euronews.com/2011/05/27/german-e-coli-linked-to-spanish-cucumbers/
    As I recall the genetics of the organic Spanish cucumber fecal smearing didn’t match up with the particular strain of e.coli that was killing people at the moment but organic fecal contamination on German sprouts did. This time the organic sprouts happened to beat the organic cucumbers to the grim reaper’s finish line to kill 50 and severely sicken thousands. How can we let the Spanish organic growers off the hook if they grow and ship manure-laden food…just because another organic grower’s food was more toxic, more rapidly lethal?
    http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2011/06/its-not-about-the-sprouts/
    The contaminated organic cukes were poised to eventually initiate their own food poisoning outbreak if the organic sprouts hadn’t been faster on the draw…this time.

  • Marty

    Agricultural income to the region was reduced only 11.3% by a fatal organic sprout disaster of historic proportions? At the time we were told sales were a total loss and Spain’s growers would certainly be ruined. Aren’t these Spaniards the same ones now begging for billions of Euros in stimulus to stave off what they claim will otherwise be certain ruination of Spain’s financial sector? Why should anyone believe them?

  • Katie

    It was only a year ago so many Germans were made seriously ill and some killed by organic sprouts. I clearly remember they found e. coli on organic vegetables the very first time they looked. It was reported here in real time
    http://news.sciencemag.org/scienceinsider/2011/05/cucumbers-may-be-culprit-in-mass.html
    Those Spanish organic growers are responsible for the business they lost. They might have been banned for contaminated organic produce anyway if anyone was doing routine checks of food safety. No one was looking so everyone had become sloppy and complacent. A deadly organic food poisoning outbreak was bound to happen sooner or later. Who’s checking up on organic growers here in the U.S., by the way? There’s probably as much e. coli on our organic cucumbers as Spain’s, if not more.

  • anon

    Orchid? Orchard, maybe?