Spain may sue Hamburg over cucumber scare

Spain may sue Hamburg over cucumber scare

Spain may take legal action against the German city of Hamburg, which attributed to Spanish cucumbers a virulent germ that has killed 16 people, Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said Wednesday, DPA reported.

Scientists in Hamburg, the epicentre of the enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC) infection, said Tuesday that new tests showed the bacterium in question was not on two organically grown cucumbers seized in the city last week. Instead, a separate, less virulent strain of E coli had been discovered on those.

The German authorities ignored the origin of the bacterium, Rubalcaba said, stressing that it was not in Spain.

Rubalcaba did not exclude the possibility of Spain taking legal action against the city-state of Hamburg. Madrid has earlier said it will seek compensation from Germany and the EU for the losses suffered by its farmers, which amounted to about 200 million euros (288 million dollars) a week.

The minister said he expected warnings against Spanish cucumbers to be lifted Wednesday on the European market, and called for a campaign to restore the image of Spain's "excellent" agricultural products.

Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, a spokeswoman for the opposition conservative People's Party (PP), said Hamburg Health Minister Cornelia Pruefer-Storcks had acted "completely irresponsibly" when linking Spanish cucumbers with the EHEC outbreak.

In Germany, however, Consumer Affairs Minister Ilse Aigner defended last week's precautionary warning against eating Spanish cucumbers, saying it had been right to go public before all the facts were in.

"EHEC germs were in fact found on the Spanish cucumbers. That meant a quick warning had to be published under European rules," Aigner said on ZDF breakfast television. She said the German authorities in Hamburg "did just the right thing."

On Tuesday, German laboratory tests found 16 recent deaths were the fault of a different strain of EHEC from that found on the suspect cucumbers.

The Spanish fruit and vegetable producers' association Fepex called for "urgent measures" allowing for the shipment of products that had been blocked for days.

Spanish fruit and vegetable exports to the rest of Europe had become practically paralysed, Fepex said.

More than 1,000 people have fallen ill in Germany and nearby countries from EHEC, which causes diarrhoea, kidney damage and sometimes death.

Scientists are now back to square one in the hunt for the source of the deadly new strain of EHEC.

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