The outbreak of a fatal strain of E. coli that has killed more than 30 people in northern Europe seems to have peaked, with the number of cases of infections falling significantly in recent days.
The Robert Koch Institute, the Germany agency monitoring the outbreak, reported on 14 June that the number of cases of illnesses caused by the enterohaemorraghic E. coli (EHEC) had fallen to a “significantly lower level”. Thirty-five people have so far died after contracting the EHEC strain, 34 in Germany and one in Sweden. A total of 3,235 people have fallen ill with the strain.
The evolution in the number of cases came two days after the Robert Koch Institute announced that the source of the contamination had been confirmed as bean sprouts grown on an organic farm in Bienenbüttel, near Hamburg. The farm stopped the sale of produce on 5 June when it was announced that its products were being tested for the presence of the EHEC strain.
John Dalli, the European commissioner for health and consumer policy, welcomed the identification of the source of the outbreak, saying that consumers and trade partners would have “full confidence” about the safety of the EU’s vegetables.
He said that the Commission and member states would “draw lessons” from the crisis to strengthen the EU’s alert and response system.
Separately, the Russian authorities announced on 10 June that they were lifting a ban on imports of vegetables from the EU. The ban was imposed when the source of the infection was believed to be cucumbers from Spain. The lifting of the ban was announced at the end of an EU-Russia summit in Nizhny Novgorod. The Russians agreed to lift the ban, which the EU has said was disproportionate, after the European Commission had proposed putting in place a certification scheme to attest to the safety of EU vegetables.
On Tuesday (14 June), member states approved a scheme to provide €210 million to compensate farmers for losses incurred when the market in fruit and vegetables collapsed because of the E. coli outbreak. The scheme will pay producers of cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, courgettes and peppers 50% of the usual market price in June.
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