France bans UK garden firm's seeds in E.coli scare

PARIS Sat Jun 25, 2011 12:01pm EDT

The plant watering system is seen shut down at a farm where E.coli bacteria was found in Nieder-Erlenbach on the outskirts of Frankfurt, June 18, 2011. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

The plant watering system is seen shut down at a farm where E.coli bacteria was found in Nieder-Erlenbach on the outskirts of Frankfurt, June 18, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach

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PARIS (Reuters) - At least two people suffering from E.coli in the French city of Bordeaux have the strain that caused scores of deaths in Germany, French authorities said, and they halted sales of vegetable seeds from a British gardening firm.

The firm, Thompson & Morgan, based in the eastern British town of Ipswich, said Saturday it did not believe its seeds were the cause of the outbreak. A British member of the European parliament said the French authorities should be careful not to damage businesses by hastily assigning blame.

French authorities say six of the people hospitalised in Bordeaux ate sprouted salad vegetables grown from seeds by parents for a June 8 fair at a leisure center in the Bordeaux suburb of Begles.

The suburb's mayor, Noel Mamere, told Reuters the seeds had been bought from a local shop, whose entire stock had since been seized. The French commerce ministry said the seeds at the shop were supplied by Thompson & Morgan.

While awaiting the results of analyses, the government had instructed the consumer authority "to ask sellers of fenugreek, mustard and rocket seeds coming from supplier Thompson & Morgan to suspend the sale of these products without delay," it said.

"The link between the symptoms and consumption of these seeds has so far not been definitively established," the ministry added in a statement issued Friday.

The company said it had sold hundreds of thousands of packets of sprouting seeds to home gardeners in Britain and Europe without any problems.

"We note that the French outbreak seems to be localised to a specific event, which would indicate to us that something local in the Bordeaux area, or the way the product has been handled and grown, is responsible for the incident rather than our seeds," it said in a statement.

Ten E.coli cases have been detected in Bordeaux and seven people were still hospitalised Friday, said Doctor Joao Simoes, who heads the regional health agency.

Regional health official Patrick Rolland told journalists initial tests on two of the patients showed that both had the same E.coli strain as that which caused nearly 40 deaths mostly in Germany this year.

Health authorities in Germany have linked the epidemic there to contaminated bean sprouts and shoots from a German organic farm sold to consumers and restaurants for eating in salads.

German authorities came under fire in their investigation for hastily blaming the epidemic on Spanish cucumbers, comments they later withdrew but only after a drop in sales.

Richard Howitt, member of the European parliament for the east of England which includes Ipswich where the British firm is based, warned against making the same mistake.

"We must be very clear and learn the lessons of the bungling and the mishandling by the Germans in their own investigations," he told Sky News television.

"We must also be very clear that panic amongst consumers is not justified, a collapse in sales is very damaging economically...and is not justified by one report from the French, as yet totally unproven."

French health authorities have said there did not appear to be any link between the cases in Bordeaux and an outbreak last week of E.coli infections near Lille, in northern France, that made eight children ill.

(Additional reporting by Leigh Thomas in Paris and Avril Ormsby in London; Editing by Peter Graff)

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Comments (1)
Kev_C wrote:
To suggest that the growing of seeds which originated in England is responsible for the outbreak and that all seeds from the UK company are to blame is absolutely absurd. Once the company sold the seeds in good faith to the retailer then the condition of those seeds going forward becomes the retailers responsibility. After they are purchased by the customer it becomes their responsibility. The way in which these seeds are germinated and grown is up to the grower, not the seed company.
As the seed company say they sell hundreds of thousands of these seeds without so much as a whisper of any other issues from everywhere else, and they sell them all over the EU (and probably the world too). So the knee jerk response has to be the work of some mean minded control freak who wants to put an end to food independence.

I personally see this as another attempt to discredit the organic and real food markets. When will the real world people realise that corporations want to control the entire global food market? Take Monsanto with GM. They want to have their way in the EU and incidents like this will only further their cause. So it follows that they will suggest and hint that organic food is somehow ‘unsafe’ for consumers. They will suggest that the only ‘safe’ way to grow food is to go GM. No way is that safe in a million years.
One or two isolated incidents at a time when these e-coli strains are being manipulated in laboratories by mad bio-tech scientists on a glory trip does not mean organic or green food is unsafe. It is just that the environmental conditions are becoming altered by our behaviour, not the seeds being contaminated. What if the water used to grow them came from a contaminated watering can?
How about something even more sinister?

Vozrozhdeniya. Never heard of the place?

The island of Vozrozhdeniya, also somewhat ironically known as Rebirth Island, and now shared by Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, is unique in that with the shrinking waters of the Aral Sea it has now effectively rejoined the mainland. However, though it may no longer technically be an island, we still don’t think you will want to step foot on it! In 1948, the Soviets established a bio-weapons lab here that tested some of the most dangerous disease agents known. Smallpox, anthrax and tularemia are just a few of them. Courtesy of Environmental Graffiti ’7 Deadliest Islands Ever’ 25 06 2011

What if someone living near this former island, which has now rejoined the mainland, travelled into Germany to work on a farm? What if they were unwittingly carrying an infection of the sort that apparently has been genetically modified? Think it couldn’t happen?

The next step will be to convince the people that eating raw food is dangerous and it must be properly cooked, denatured, irradiated, sterilised. What good it will be when these things are done to it is anyone’s guess. I won’t be eating that sort of sterilised mush.

This incident, tied to the German episode as it is becoming, is just the beginning. There will be calls for EU wide controls with the introduction of irradiation of all natural food products and the restriction of seed sales to home growers and all manner of chemical treatments applied to the land to sterilise the soil still further whilst all these chemicals will be making their way into the water supply and killing off people by the tens of thousands. But what will be said about that? Nothing. Its not profitable to kick up a fuss about toxic chemicals because the chemical industry are entitled to make a profit. And all these controls will be all in ‘the best interests of the people’.
Nothing is ever done by governments for and in the best interests of the people.

Jun 26, 2011 12:43pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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