Qatar bans German, Spanish vegetables

Consumer panic as outbreak killed 19 people in 12 countries

DOHA - Qatar has banned the import of cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce from Spain and Germany, state news agency QNA reported Saturday, amid an E. coli outbreak that has killed 19 people in 12 countries.
"Qatar Supreme Council of Health has decided to impose a temporary ban on fresh cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce imported from Spain and Germany due to the spread of E. coli," the agency said.
The council will "not hesitate in banning all vegetables from all European countries if necessary," QNA quoted a council spokesperson as saying.
All but one of the fatalities since the outbreak of enterohaemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) poisoning began last month have been in Germany. A patient who died in Sweden had recently returned from Germany.
Regional German health authorities have reported more than 2,000 cases of people falling ill with EHEC poisoning, with symptoms including stomach cramps, diarrhoea, fever and vomiting.
Lebanon imposed a ban on Friday on all vegetable imports from the European Union in response to the outbreak of E. coli poisoning, the agriculture minister said.
"We have decided to ban the import of all types of vegetables from Europe," Hussein Hajj Hassan said.
He said the ban posed "no risk of shortages on the local market," as Lebanon could count on its own production and that of neighbouring Jordan and Syria.
Scientists have yet to trace the source of an E. coli outbreak that has spread to 12 countries and killed at least 19 people, mainly in Germany.
The European Commission said it would send an expert team to Germany to bolster efforts to find the origin of the killer bacteria.
Russia banned European vegetable imports Thursday as Britain reported an outbreak of the mysterious lethal bacteria, and Spain demanded a payback for its farmers.
As confusion reigned over the killer strain of E. coli bacteria, Russia said it had blacklisted imports of fresh vegetables from European Union countries with immediate effect and slammed food safety standards in the bloc.
Meanwhile Britain said seven people there had been infected with the bacteria, including three British nationals who had recently travelled to Germany and four German nationals.
Russia's Rospotrebnadzor watchdog said its ban would remain in force until the EU explained what caused the 18 deaths -- all but one of them in Germany.
"This shows that Europe's lauded health legislation -- one which Russia is being urged to adopt -- does not work," consumer watchdog's chief Gennady Onishchenko was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.
The European Commission slammed the move as "disproportionate" and demanded an explanation from Russia, whose vegetable exports from Europe amount to around 600 million euros ($868 million) each year.
But Spain said its own tests on its cucumbers showed no sign of the Enterohaemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC), which can result in full-blown haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS) -- a disease that causes bloody diarrhoea and serious liver damage.
Of the seven cases in Britain, three had HUS and the other four suffered bloody diarrhoea, the Health Protection Agency said.
Officials in the northern German port city of Hamburg, the epicentre of the outbreak, had last week cited imported Spanish cucumbers as the source of the contamination.
But tests on two Spanish cucumbers there this week showed that while they carried dangerous EHEC bacteria, it was not the strain responsible for the current massive contamination.
Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said Spain, already struggling with a weak economy and high unemployment, would seek compensation over the false allegations.
"Yesterday, it became clear, with the analyses carried out by the Spanish agency for food safety, that there is not the slightest indication that the origin of the serious infection is any Spanish product," he said in an interview with Spanish national radio.
"Therefore, I would have liked a clearer reaction from the (European) Commission.
"Now we have a very ambitious task ahead of us, which is to recover our good reputation as soon as possible and the trade in all Spanish products."
Spain will also "seek reparations before the relevant authorities in Europe for the harm sustained," he said, after the European Commission lifted its warning over Spanish cucumbers.
Spain's fruit and vegetable exporters estimate they have lost more than 200 million euros a week as 150,000 tonnes of produce went unsold in a Europe-wide reaction to the outbreak.
The EU agency in charge of disease prevention confirmed the very rare strain of bacteria behind the infections, identified as STEC serogroup 0104:H4, but noted its source was still under investigation.
Public confidence in food safety in Europe has again been seriously undermined following the outbreak of E.coli in Germany.
Spanish cucumbers, originally blamed for the outbreak, have been cleared, but consumers are still shunning the usually popular vegetable.
Following are some of the food scares from beef to pork and chicken that have contributed to the crisis in consumer confidence in Europe over the past three decades.
- 1981: SPANISH TAINTED OIL
Some 1,200 people are killed and 4,000 injured in Spain in May 1981 after being poisoned by tainted colza oil, sold as a substitute for olive oil in Madrid's popular suburbs, in what is known as the "toxic syndrome". Sales of olive oil drop drastically, getting back to normal only two years later.
- 1985: TAINTED WINE IN AUSTRIA
An enormous scandal blows up when wine tainted with anti-freeze is uncovered in Austria. Some 56,000 companies, employing 250,000 people, are implicated in the affair, having sold wine "softened" with glycol, a chemical product used as an anti-freeze in industry.
Those found responsible were sentenced to a total of 137 years in jail.
- 1986: MAD COW DISEASE IN BRITAIN
The appearance of the first cases of "mad cow disease" or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), in 1986 in Britain causes a public health scare that lasts several years. In 1996, when it becomes clear that the disease can be transmitted to humans in the form of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the European Union orders a worldwide embargo on British beef and its derivatives. More than 170 people die.
1989: SALMONELLA IN BRITISH EGGS
British eggs are found to be contaminated with a virulent, previously unknown form of salmonella. The British government orders the slaughter of two million birds between 1989 and 1993.
1990: BENZENE TAINTED PERRIER
Mineral water producer Perrier withdraws 160 million bottles worldwide following the detection of benzene in bottles on sale in the United States.
- 1999: CHICKENGATE
In May 1999, dioxin, a highly carcinogenous substance, is discovered in feed for poultry and livestock in Belgium, contaminating the whole food chain. The scandal leads to the resignation of two Belgian ministers and costs Belgium 650 million euros (908 million dollars), as consumers shun industrially produced eggs and chickens.