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HEALTH : E. coli outbreak: Europe-wide controls ’not needed’
The EU health commissioner has said the current E. coli outbreak is limited geographically to northern Germany and does not need Europe-wide controls.
John Dalli also warned against releasing unproven information on the outbreak, saying it spread fear and adversely affected farm producers.
He was speaking ahead of emergency talks by EU agriculture ministers.
Efforts continue to find the source of the E. coli outbreak, which has killed 22 people and sickened 2,200.
All the deaths, bar one in Sweden, have been in Germany. Twelve countries have been affected, with the cases outside Germany linked to travel there.
The latest focus has been on bean sprouts from a German farm in Uelzen, south of Hamburg. However, of 40 samples examined from the farm, the first 23 tested negative.
’Honour of the cucumber’
Mr Dalli told the European Parliament: "I stress that the outbreak is limited geographically to the area surrounding the city of Hamburg, so there is no reason to take action on a European level. [EU-wide] measures against any product are disproportionate."
But he admitted that bans on certain products were a Europe-wide problem.
Russia has banned imports of fresh vegetables from the EU.
Mr Dalli said: "We are in constant contact with third countries, including Russia. We are urging Russia to lift their ban; it is disproportionate."
Detailing how the crisis unfolded, he said that originally pinpointing cucumbers from Spain as the source had been wrong.
He said: "It’s crucial that national authorities don’t rush to give information on the source of infection when it’s not justified by the science.
"That creates fears and problems for our food producers. We must be careful not to make premature conclusions."
He insisted that the EU’s rapid alert system had worked, although "we need to learn lessons as we go along".
After he spoke, Spanish delegate Francisco Sosa Wagner held up a cucumber during his speech, saying: "We need to restore the honour of the cucumber."
Later in Luxembourg, the EU agriculture ministers will want to know how close experts are to identifying the source, amid mounting criticism of the investigation, the BBC’s Europe correspondent Chris Morris reports.
He says the meeting will also consider the sensitive issue of compensation for farmers; harsh words may well be exchanged and EU solidarity tested once again.
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