Saturday, June 11, 2011

Germany: Organic sprouts are cause of E. coli outbreak

One German organic farm has now killed far more people than the death toll from the Fukushima nuclear reactor accident and the Gulf oil spill combined

Investigators have determined that German-grown vegetable sprouts are the cause of the E. coli outbreak that has killed 29 people and sickened nearly 3,000, the head of Germany's national disease control center said Friday.

Reinhard Burger, president of the Robert Koch Institute, said even though no tests of the sprouts from an organic farm in Lower Saxony had come back positive for the E. coli strain behind the outbreak, an investigation into the pattern of the outbreak had produced enough evidence to draw the conclusion.

"In this way, it was possible to narrow down epidemiologically the cause of the outbreak of the illness to the consumption of sprouts," Burger said at a press conference with the heads of Germany's Federal Institute for Risk Assessment and Federal Office for Consumer Protection. "It is the sprouts."

The breakthrough in the investigation came after a task force from the three institutes linked separate clusters of patients who had fallen sick to 26 restaurants and cafeterias that had received produce from the organic farm.

"It was like a crime thriller where you have to find the bad guy," said Helmut Tschiersky-Schoeneburg from the consumer protection agency. "They even studied the menus, the ingredients, looked at bills and took pictures of the different meals, which they then showed to those who had fallen ill," said Andreas Hensel, head of the Risk Assessment agency.

Hensel said authorities were lifting the warning against eating cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce, and explicitly urged consumers to start eating those vegetables once again. "Lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers should be eaten again - it is all healthy produce," he said.

Burger said it was possible that all of the tainted sprouts have either been consumed or thrown away by now, but still warned that the crisis is not yet over and people should not eat sprouts.

While the farm in the northern German village of Bienenbuettel that has been blamed for the outbreak was shut down last Thursday and all of its produce recalled, the experts said they could not exclude the possibility that some tainted sprouts were still being used by restaurants or cafeterias and people could still get infected with E. coli.

Also, since it has not yet be established why the sprouts were bad - whether the seeds had been contaminated or the farm's water - the experts said it was possible that other nearby farms could also be affected.

Germany has been the epicenter of the outbreak, with 2,808 sickened, 722 of whom are suffering from a serious complication that can cause kidney failure. The World Health Organization says 97 others have fallen sick in 12 other European countries, as well as three in the United States.

In recent days the numbers of people being reported ill have been dropping, but it was not clear whether the epidemic was waning or consumers were just successfully shunning tainted vegetables.

More here

Minimum prices for alcohol

By Luke Malpass, commenting from Australia

The term ‘nanny state’ gets a bad rap. Those who believe the state should protect people from themselves fulminate about this pejorative label. ‘But don’t you understand?’ they say, ‘we are helping people; “nanny state” is used by people who don’t care about others.’

But what is using the coercive power of the state to curtail potentially risky behaviour, if not nannying?

Nanny might soon be given another lever. The federal government is considering a recommendation from the National Preventative Health Agency (a new bureaucracy whose job is to recommend laws and taxes to prevent people from consuming alcohol, tobacco and fast food) to introduce a minimum sale price per standard drink of alcohol. Taxes aren’t working, apparently because competition (usually considered a virtue) has kept prices of some types of liquor low. Moreover, people are drinking too much! So a minimum price is being mooted to discourage drinking.

A minimum price regime, in effect state-mandated price fixing, would make liquor a more protected industry. It would encourage trade in illegal cheap alcohol, and would also be highly regressive. Low-income drinkers would have to spend an even higher portion of their income to have a drink. No doubt the minimum price would rise over time, as it became obvious that alcohol consumption had not been sufficiently reduced.

Minimum prices are blunt impositions that hamper the operation of entire markets. In the case of alcohol, they would penalise people who drink in safety and moderation.

Minimum prices are a woefully inadequate way to try and prevent some of the problems of excessive alcohol consumption such as violence and alcohol poisoning. People addicted to substances are the least affected by price increases.

At best there could be a slight reduction in harmful drinking (but at what cost to other drinkers?); at worst, those who are poor and have an alcohol problem will substitute liquor alcohol for meths or something even more dangerous.

This proposed policy fails on the grounds of equity, efficacy and the ‘do no harm’ principle. It won’t even be effective nannying.

The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated 10 June. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.

1 comment:

Wireless.Phil said...

Scientists probe DNA of E. coli for outbreak clues 34 minutes ago
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