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Spain's Europe minister has said Madrid won't take Germany to court over the mistaken E. coli-related warning against Spanish cucumbers. But the Berlin government will help restore the reputation of Spanish produce.
Tests continue, but the source may never be found
A visiting Spanish minister said in Berlin on Thursday that Germany would help restore the reputation of Spanish vegetables after a mistaken E. coli health warning shook consumer faith and pushed down prices last week.
The Spanish government, however, is not planning to seek financial compensation from Germany or the northern state of Lower Saxony, which issued the warning.
"The German government has agreed to make an effort to improve the image of Spanish produce in Germany," Spain's Europe Minister Diego Lopez Garrido told reporters at a press conference in Berlin, after talks with his Germany's Deputy Foreign Minister Werner Hoyer. "Twenty-five percent of our vegetable exports are to Germany, it is our most important export market. Therefore it is also the duty of the German government to assist us with promotion."
Garrido described the false cucumber alarm as "unfortunate," saying mistakes had been made, but he also said it was time to look ahead, seek the source of the outbreak and work on compensating European farmers who have suffered.
Later Thursday, the E. coli outbreak and Moscow's ban on European Union fruit and vegetable imports is likely to dominate the agenda at the EU-Russia summit in Nizhny Novgorod.
Cucumbers are back in the news, but it's probably another red herring
German authorities, now with European assistance, are still hunting for the source of the E. coli outbreak.
The death toll rose to 30 on Thursday, although the number of reported infections began to decrease. More than 2,800 people are currently affected - almost all of them in northern Germany.
Fresh food finding
For the first time on Wednesday, the correct strain of E. coli bacteria was identified on foodstuffs in Germany. However, the infected cucumbers were found in a garbage can in the state of Saxony-Anhalt at a home where three people had contracted the illness; authorities said they might have transferred the bacteria to the food, not vice-versa.
"We don't know and we probably won't ever be able to prove how the bacteria got there," said Holger Paech, state health spokesman.
Until this development, authorities had not yet found the correct strain of the E. coli bacteria on produce. The discovery of the wrong type of E. coli on cucumbers imported from Spain led to the ultimately erroneous warning about Spanish cucumbers being issued by the state government in Lower Saxony, the northern German epicenter of the outbreak.
Mystery source may never be known
Germany's agriculture and consumer affairs minister, Ilse Aigner, said in parliament Wednesday that investigations into suspect bean sprouts from an organic market farm in Lower Saxony were continuing, despite test results coming up negative thus far.
Aigner also told her colleagues in Berlin that "in 78 to 80 percent of such cases a contaminant is never found" because of the time lapse between contamination and the outbreak of the disease.
The European Union plans to introduce a 210-million-euro ($306.2-million) fund to compensate European fruit and vegetable producers, and EU governments will be asked to give the green light for funding at a meeting in Brussels on Tuesday.
Author: Mark Hallam, Charlotte Chelsom-Pill (AFP, dapd, dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Martin Kuebler