17th Sep 2019

Anger over EU alert system as E. coli scare hits producers

  • E.coli in a petri dish. German tests are ongoing (Photo: Carlos de Paz)

Spain is calling for the EU's rapid alert system to be reformed after German officials mistakenly labeled organic cucumbers from Spain as the most likely source of a deadly E. coli virus, sending vegetable sales into a downward spin.

EU agriculture ministers are to hold an emergency meeting in Luxembourg on Tuesday (7 June) to discuss possible compensation measures for fruit and vegetable producers, after several countries opted to pull Spanish cucumbers off the shelves.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

The decision was prompted after Germany triggered the EU's rapid alert system last month, with the majority of illnesses and all-but-one deaths centred in the EU's largest member state.

Tests later showed that Spanish cucumbers were not the source of the deadly E. coli strain which has caused 22 reported deaths and an estimated 2,000 illnesses across Europe, with German officials now identifying a sprout farm in the north of the country as a potential source.

"We want to express our displeasure at how the crisis was handled, damaging the interests of our country," Spanish health minister Leire Pajin said at a meeting with her European counterparts in Luxembourg on Monday.

"We want to ask of course [for] compensation for the serious and irreparable damages Spain has suffered, and we will also ask the European Commission to strengthen and improve the alert systems on food safety."

EU health and consumer affairs commissioner John Dalli defended the system however. "The EU early warning systems provides a solid base for the EU and member states to share information," he told journalists.

"It is important to make statements when we only have all the facts. But we have to understand that people in certain situations have a responsibility to notify their citizens about possible dangers. The question is where to draw the line ... it's very easy to draw conclusions in hindsight."

But he conceded that "adjustments" were likely to be necessary, with 'suspicion' currently being sufficient for member states to trigger the warning mechanism. "In future we need to see how the timing of the alerts can be closer to the actual scientific basis and proof ... something that goes through the rapid alert system is news very quickly."

EU agriculture ministers are set to hold emergency talks on compensating European vegetable producers on Tuesday, with Brussels labelling a Russian decision to ban European vegetable exports as "disproportionate".

Officials said they hoped the Russians would back down before an EU-Russia summit later this week.

On the question of compensation, the commission's agriculture spokesman stressed that diminished sales were a problem for European producers in general, and not just Spanish.

"The commission is looking at various legal options [for compensation]," Roger Waite told a regular news conference in Brussels. "There was already a drop in consumption before any comment was made about Spanish cucumbers."

Seven EU experts in food-borne diseases were dispatched to Berlin on Sunday to help German authorities trace the source of the current outbreak, with the results of further tests expected later on Monday.

Defending the 'European way of life' name splits MEPs

European People's Party group leader Manfred Weber defended Ursula von der Leyen's decision to rename a commission portfolio, partly dealing with migration, "protecting the European way of life". He said it means rescuing people in the Mediterranean.

Hungary claims EU 'witch-hunt' over rule of law hearing

Hungary was quizzed by EU ministers over its domestic crackdown on media, judges, academia and NGOs. Hungary's minister responded by saying the country had defended "the European way of life" for centuries, and it should be respected.


Trumpworld In Europe

Pastors and plutocrats are sponsoring an ultra-conservative agenda in Europe. Many of them have links to Donald Trump.


How EU firms and banks help fund Amazon fires

Deutsche Bank, BNP Paribas, Blackrock, and Vanguard collectively own more than $1.1bn in debt in the three largest soy, and the three largest cattle companies, and own $6bn worth of shares in these companies.


Amazon fires mean EP must rethink Mercosur trade deal

The European parliament debates on Tuesday the fires in the Amazon region. "It goes without saying that, in light of the gravity of the situation, Europe will need to renegotiate the Mercosur agreement", writes MEP Kathleen Van Brempt.


EU must give full support to Ukraine to dissuade Kremlin

With Donald Trump unable to fill the US's traditional role of standing up to authoritarian regimes - and his inner circle even putting pressure on Kiev to investigate the Democratic frontrunner, Joe Biden - Europe should take a harder line.

News in Brief

  1. Apple and Ireland appeal €13bn EU tax ruling
  2. UK PM should provide witness statement, court told
  3. Italy's ex-PM Renzi quits ruling Democratic Party
  4. German top lawmaker scolds Bettel over Johnson snub
  5. Greens decide on Tuesday on talks on Five Star joining
  6. Belgian mayors give Juncker a tongue-lashing
  7. Von der Leyen defends 'way of life' slogan
  8. Court hears case on UK's pre-Brexit parliament shutdown


Trumpworld In Europe

Pastors and plutocrats are sponsoring an ultra-conservative agenda in Europe. Many of them have links to Donald Trump.


Why I'm voting against the von der Leyen commission

The new migration commissioner's job title, "Protecting our European way of life", rings not of pan-European solidarity or federalism - but is incorporated from the playbook of the extreme right.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  6. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  8. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  9. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  10. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  11. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat

Latest News

  1. Defending the 'European way of life' name splits MEPs
  2. Hungary claims EU 'witch-hunt' over rule of law hearing
  3. Trumpworld In Europe
  4. How EU firms and banks help fund Amazon fires
  5. Amazon fires mean EP must rethink Mercosur trade deal
  6. EU must give full support to Ukraine to dissuade Kremlin
  7. EU divided on how to protect rule of law
  8. Nordic region to become world's most sustainable and integrated

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us