Officials are investigating a possible link between seeds sold by a UK firm and an E. coli outbreak in France.
News agency AFP said 10 people have been affected by E. coli in Bordeaux.
It is thought a number of them had eaten rocket and mustard vegetable sprouts, believed to have been grown from seeds sold by Thompson and Morgan.
The Ipswich-based company told the BBC it had no evidence of a link. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) said no E. coli cases had been reported in the UK.
However, it has revised its guidance and is advising people not to eat raw sprouted seeds, including alfalfa, mung beans (or beansprouts) and fenugreek.
The agency said these should only be eaten if cooked until steaming hot throughout.
A spokeswoman for Thompson and Morgan said the company sold “hundreds of thousands of packets of these seeds” throughout France, the UK and other parts of Europe every year.
“We are very confident the problem is not with our seeds. People can still grow these seeds and use these seeds with absolute confidence,” she said.
“For such a small number of people to have been affected, it does suggest that the problem is perhaps in the local area, how the seeds have been handled or how they have been grown, rather than the actual seeds themselves.”
BERLIN — Specialists in high-tech labs tested thousands of vegetables as they hunted for the source of world’s deadliest E. coli outbreak, but in the end it was old-fashioned detective work that provided the answer: German-grown sprouts.
After more than a month of searching, health officials announced Friday they had determined that sprouts from an organic farm in the northern German village of Bienenbuettel were the source of the outbreak that has killed 31 people, sickened nearly 3,100 and prompted much of Europe to shun vegetables.
“It was like a crime thriller where you have to find the bad guy,” said Helmut Tschiersky-Schoeneburg, head of Germany’s consumer protection agency.
It’s little surprise that sprouts were the culprit — they have been implicated in many previous food-borne outbreaks: ones in Michigan and Virginia in 2005, and large outbreak in Japan in 1996 that killed 11 people and sickened more than 9,000.
While sprouts are full of protein and vitamins, their ability to transmit disease makes some public health officials nervous. Sprouts have abundant surface area for bacteria to cling to, and if their seeds are contaminated, washing won’t help.
“E. coli can stick tightly to the surface of seeds needed to make sprouts and they can lay dormant on the seeds for months,”
The European agriculture commissioner has proposed spending €150m (£135m) to compensate farmers affected by the E coli outbreak by paying them a proportion of the cost of unsold products.
Dacian Ciolos, speaking before emergency talks between EU agriculture ministers, said farmers could receive around 30% of the cost of vegetables they have been unable to sell due to fears over the outbreak in Germany, which has killed 22 people and made more than 2,200 ill.
“We propose €150m. We will obviously see what we get,” Ciolos said.
The plan was immediately rejected as insufficient by Spain, which has suffered disproportionately from the economic impact of the outbreak, in part because it grows a significant share of Europe’s salad produce but also because cucumbers from the country were initially blamed.
“No, Spain does not see it as sufficient,” the country’s agriculture minister, Rosa Aguilar, said. Spain and some other EU countries had drawn up an alternative plan under which farmers would be compensated for between 90% and 100% of market price losses, she said.
Her French counterpart, Bruno Le Maire, has backed the Spanish plan.
The ministers are expected to reach an agreement in principle later on Tuesday. They are coming under intense pressure from the EU farming lobby, which argues that Spanish farmers alone are losing €200m a week due to the outbreak, with weekly €100m losses in Italy.
An investigation into a deadly outbreak of E coli has been thrown into chaos after laboratory tests showed that bean sprouts grown near Hamburg, which had been identified as the likely source, are possibly not to blame.
German officials had said they were confident that sprouts from the organic Gärtenhof farm in Lower Saxony were behind the spread of a particularly virulent strain of the bacterium. There were “strong and clear indications” that the farm was involved, the federal health minister, Daniel Bahr, said.
However, Lower Saxony’s agriculture ministry said 23 of 40 samples from the farm had now tested negative for the E coli, with 17 more tests still being done.
“The search for the outbreak’s cause is very difficult as several weeks have passed since its suspected start,” the ministry said in a statement, while warning that the negative tests did not conclusively prove the sprouts had not been contaminated. The ministry said it may be some time before Europe’s shoppers know for sure what foodstuffs are safe: “A conclusion of the investigations and a clarification of the contamination’s origin is not expected in the short term.”
Mounting suspicions that the outbreak originated in Germany caused outrage in Spain, which has seen a slump in demand for its vegetables after Spanish-grown cucumbers were initially blamed.
The EU is to hold an emergency meeting to consider ways to compensate Spanish farmers for their losses.
German hospitals are struggling to cope with the surge in patients caused by the E coli outbreak, as the death toll from the virus rose to 22.
The health minister, Daniel Bahr, said hospitals in northern Germany were finding it difficult to provide enough beds and treatment for patients, with the total number of cases increasing to 2,200.
“We’re facing a tense situation with patient care,” Bahr said, “but we will manage it.”
Agriculture officials said that bean sprouts grown in one organic farm between Hamburg and Hanover were the likely cause of the illness.
Hospital authorities said blood supplies were running low and staff were exhausted and working round-the-clock, with the northern cities of Hamburg and Bremen the worst affected.
“They [the doctors] voluntarily come in on weekends and even sleep here,” Oliver Grieve, a spokesman for the Kiel University hospital in northern Germany told Spiegel Online.
Hamburg’s health minister, Cornelia Prüfer-Storcks, told a news conference the city was considering bringing doctors out of retirement. “We want to discuss with doctors about whether those who recently retired can be reactivated,” she said.
Patients with less serious illnesses are now being moved to nearby hospitals and operations for non-threatening diseases are being postponed.
The mysterious German E coli outbreak that has killed 16 people shows no sight of abating, with 365 new cases confirmed on Wednesday.
The source of the outbreak remains unknown, though the majority of those affected either live in Germany – particularly in or around the northern city of Hamburg – or have travelled there recently.
The German disease control agency, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), reported 365 new E coli cases today, a quarter of them involving the hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS), a serious complication resulting from E coli infection that affects the blood and kidneys.
European Union officials said three cases had also been reported in the US, adding that most infections reported outside Germany involved German nationals or people who had recently travelled to the country. On Tuesday, a Swedish woman became the first person to die outside Germany after returning from a trip there.
On Wednesday, the northern state of Mecklenburg Western Pomerania issued a plea for blood donations in case the number of victims continues to rise.
German authorities initially identified cucumbers imported from Spain as the likely source of the outbreak but they admitted on Tuesday that further tests on the cucumbers showedthat, while contaminated, they did not carry the bacterium strain responsible for the deaths.
THE Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) has gone from flagging only vegetables from Spain and Germany to flagging greens from the rest of the European Union (EU).
The widening of its ‘hold-and-test’ requirement comes on the heels of a deadly E. coli outbreak in Germany, thought to be spread through contaminated cucumbers imported from Spain.
The ‘hold-and-test’ procedure refers to the practice of sending suspected items for tests and withholding their sale until they are found to be free of contaminants.
On Sunday, the AVA had said it would place imported leafy vegetables, cucumbers and tomatoes from Germany and Spain under hold-and-test, but it has since confirmed that cucumbers from Germany, Spain and Denmark are not brought in here.
Some, however, do come in from the Netherlands; between January and last month, 69kg of cucumbers were imported.
Yesterday, the AVA spokesman said: ‘In view of the recent situation, AVA will place imported leafy vegetables, cucumbers and tomatoes from the EU under hold-and-test, should there be such imports.’