"We would not poison our own people," Putin tells EU

A deadly E.coli strain that has killed 18 people in Europe has forced Russia to ban imports of all European vegetables.
As scientists work to uncover the origin of the virulent strain of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that has led to the death of 18 people in Europe, Russia closes its border to all vegetables from the EU.

Moscow on Thursday announced a ban against the import of fresh vegetables from all EU member states.

"The ban on the import of fresh vegetables took force today. Fresh vegetables produced in these countries will be seized all over Russia," Director of the Federal Service for Health and Consumer Rights (Rospotrebnadzor), Gennady Onishchenko told Interfax on Thursday.

Russia had earlier banned vegetable imports from Germany and Spain only.

Onishchenko blamed “liberal” EU regulations for the outbreak, and claimed that the high level of antibiotics allowed in food production in Europe led to the E. coli bacteria becoming resistant to treatment.

"You [Europe] have the antibiotics norm of 0.3, while our norm is 0.01," he said. “The high content of antibiotics in European (products) is the cause of the high resistance of coliform bacteria, which might have triggered the infection outbreak in Europe.”

Meanwhile, the Russian  Federation is waiting  for the European  Commission to  provide  explanation and clarification as regards the quality of European vegetable products imported into Russia amid the growing  "cucumber  scandal," Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said in Sochi on Friday.

“I don’t know what particular spirit is this decision contradicting”, Putin said in response to comments by the EU’s representative in Russia who said that the ban on vegetables was contradicting the principles of the WTO and was thus surprising.

“We cannot poison our people for the sake of some spirit. I will check the grounds but we are waiting for information from European partners,” Putin said.

We want for our partners to at least name the source of this contamination, the Prime Minister added. 

No fatalities or infections have yet been reported in Russia.

New pathogen puzzles scientists

Researchers are working overtime to identify the source of the outbreak, which has now spread to about a dozen European countries and sparked intense concern over things once taken happily for granted, like consuming fresh vegetables, specifically tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce.

The outbreak of “enterohaemorrhagic E. coli,” or EHEC, the symptoms of which range from bloody diarrhea to the potentially deadly hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), has infected over 1,600 people in 11 countries across Europe and the US.

The mutant bug is especially challenging in that it is a pathogen that offers no simple cure. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday said the new strain has never been seen before, while showing resistance to common antibiotics.

"It's an emerging strain, it's a strain which we don't recognize and we don't know much about, and it appears that it is very, very virulent,"

Professor Gad Frankel, Professor of Molecular Pathogenesis, Imperial College London, told AP.

All the victims except two had recently visited northern Germany or, in one case, had come into contact with a visitor from that region. More importantly, however, is that the victims were predominantly young and healthy. In past outbreaks, it was the very young and elderly who were most susceptible to being infected; 13 of the 18 victims were middle-aged women.


Germany jumps the gun

Germany is being accused of blaming the deadly outbreak on Spanish cucumbers before any conclusive tests were completed. The accusations tore a swath through the Spanish economy, even causing a drag on the transport industry.

German officials admitted on Tuesday that Spanish cucumbers did not carry the dangerous bacteria strain connected to the outbreak.

Spanish farmers say the “cucumber psychosis” is costing them as much as €200m a week, while the nation’s transport industry is said to have lost another €15m as delivery trucks were turned away at Spanish borders. According to Spain's trade unions, as many as 70,000 jobs will be lost as a result of the panic.

Spain's agricultural sector is responsible for 15 per cent of the nation's GDP and generates more than 300,000 jobs. The country produces about 16 million tonnes of fruit and vegetables annually, with about 50 per cent of the production being exported throughout Europe. Spain already has the highest unemployment rate in the European Union.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a phone call to Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero on Thursday said the two leaders will petition Brussels to provide aid to the farmers affected by the deadly E. coli outbreak in Germany.

The outbreak, however, is also affecting German farmers, who are losing about €30 million a week in sales, according to the German Farmers' Association.


How safe is the global food supply?

This latest large-scale food contamination presents some tough questions for the proponents of corporate globalization, which is increasingly consolidating the world’s food supplies into fewer and fewer hands.

Industrial farming techniques, which big corporations say is the only way of feeding a large planet, means that when a problem strikes, it has the potential for wiping out a major sector of agricultural production with potentially widespread consequences.

“The way we eat has changed more in the last 50 years than it did in the previous 10,000,” Eric Schlosser, the author of the book Fast Food Nation, said in the film Food, Inc. “There are no seasons in the…supermarkets. Now there are tomatoes all year round, picked when they were green, and ripened with ethylene gas."

This gives consumers a “notional tomato,” Schlosser said, “the idea of a tomato” as opposed to the real thing.

Schlosser added that our food supplies have become much more dangerous in ways that are being deliberately hidden from us.

Based on this assessment, it will interesting to see if over-consolidation of global food production at the hands of transnational corporations has in any way triggered this latest outbreak of disease in the food chain.

Robert Bridge, RT