Spanish cucumber warning lifted

Brussels: The European Commission has lifted its warning to consumers over Spanish cucumbers that had been suspected of causing the fatal outbreak of E coli, Spain`s health ministry says.

"The European Commission has lifted the health warning against Spanish cucumbers coming from Almeria that had been imposed last Thursday after the erroneous report of the German authorities," it said in a statement.

It said European Union health commissioner John Dalli informed Spain`s Health Minister Leire Pajin by telephone of the decision.
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The decision "is a very important step to restore normalcy as soon as possible to the Spanish agricultural sector," the statement said.

Hamburg health authorities admitted on Tuesday that tests on two suspect Spanish cucumbers showed they did not carry the bacteria strain that has killed 16 people in Germany and one in Sweden.

Spain`s fruit and vegetable exporters estimate they have lost more than 200 million euros ($A270.43 million) a week as 150,000 tonnes of produce go unsold in a Europe-wide reaction to the crisis.

Madrid has demanded European Union compensation for Spain and other producer countries hit by the crisis.

The health ministry statement reiterated that Spain was considering legal action against the authorities in Hamburg that blamed Spanish cucumbers for the outbreak.

The Spanish government "has implemented a strategy on several fronts (the European Commission, the German government, Hamburg authorities) to remove any suspicion about the Spanish vegetables," it said.

"At the same time, Spain carried out its own analyses at the laboratory of Lugo (in Galicia), the results of which have now ruled out any link between the consumption of cucumbers from Almeria and the outbreak of E coli."

Authorities in the northern German city of Hamburg say they are still searching for the source of the outbreak.

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

Of 9.4 million tonnes of Spanish fruit and vegetables exported in 2010, the biggest share, 24 per cent, went to Germany, according to the Spanish producers` federation FEPEX.

The Spanish government says there have been no infections in Spain and argued that there is no evidence the bacteria come from the cucumbers` origin in Spain rather than in later handling elsewhere.

A 40-year-old man who recently returned from Germany was in intensive care in northern San Sebastian with a possible E coli infection, the Donostia hospital said this week. Tests so far have been inconclusive.

Bureau Report

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