Farmers set to sue over E. coli warning

Farmers are threatening to sue German health authority the Robert Koch Institute and the Federal Consumer Ministry for damages over warnings about eating vegetables made to the public in the wake of the E. coli bacteria outbreak.

Farmers set to sue over E. coli warning
Photo: DPA

The Northern Horticultural Association and the Farmers’ Association of Hamburg announced Friday they were considering legal action over what they say has needlessly damaged their business.

“With this claim, we are taking action against the warning by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) from last Wednesday against the consumption of vegetables in northern Germany,” said Paul Helle, the head of the Northern Horticultural Association, which represents small commercial farms known as market gardens.

The RKI, the government’s top advisory body on public health, this week warned against eating uncooked tomatoes, cucumbers and leafy salads in northern Germany after the outbreak of the potentially deadly E. coli bacteria.

Helle said that since Wednesday he had counted at least 100 market gardens in Hamburg that had suffered financial losses. Across the whole north of the country, more than 1,000 businesses had been affected by the RKI warning, he said. This number could climb further.

“From the severity of the damage, the situation is definitely comparable to the one that existed 25 years ago during the Chernobyl catastrophe.”

The farmers’ group said they wanted to first investigate the precise extent of the damage before they mount their legal action.

Since the original warning, authorities in Hamburg have identified four cucumbers contaminated with the bacteria, which has killed five people and made hundreds sick. Three of the cucumbers came from Spain and the fourth is of unknown origin, though some media organisations have reported that it came from the Netherlands.

Farmers across northern Germany have spent the past two days disposing of tonnes of these products. Even after the Spanish link was established, consumers have remained sceptical of German produce.

“In Lower Saxony alone, five bulk purchasers have cancelled their orders of vegetables,” Axel Boese of the Professional Vegetable Gardeners of Northern Germany said on Friday. “Vegetable growers are being hit hard when consumers reject fresh vegetables for a few days.”


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Monkeypox in Germany: Two teens ‘among new infections’

Two teenage boys between the ages of 15-17 have reportedly been infected by monkeypox, as the number of cases in Germany continues to grow.

Monkeypox in Germany: Two teens 'among new infections'

German news site Spiegel Online first reported the new cases – which are an anomaly for a virus as it has mostly affected gay men – following an inquiry to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). 

They are among a total of 2,677 people who are confirmed to have contracted the virus in Germany to date. There have not been any fatalities.

Out of these, only five cases were women, according to the RKI. The public health institute said that it does not release information on individual cases.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How Germany wants to contain the monkeypox

The disease – which is not usually fatal – often manifests itself through fever, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills, exhaustion and a chickenpox-like rash on the hands and face.

The virus can be transmitted through contact with skin lesions and droplets of a contaminated person, as well as through shared items such as bedding and towels.

Many of the cases known so far concern homosexual and bisexual men. However, affected people and experts have repeatedly warned against stigmatising gay communities.

How fatal is the disease?

The first monkeypox cases were reported in Germany on May 20th, as the disease continued to spread in West Europe.

At the weekend, the first two deaths outside of West Africa were reported in Spain.

READ ALSO: WHO warns ‘high’ risk of monkeypox in Europe as it declares health emergency

The RKI has urged people returning from West Africa and in particular gay men, to see their doctors quickly if they notice any chances on their skin.

According to the latest estimates, there are 23,000 monkeypox cases worldwide, and Europe is particularly affected with 14,000 cases.

There have been 2,677 monkeypox cases in Germany as of August 2, 2022. Photo: CDC handout

About eight percent of patients in Europe have been hospitalised so far, reported the World Health Association on Monday, mostly due to severe pain or additional infections.

In general, the mortality of the variant currently circulating in Europe is estimated to be low.

READ ALSO: More cases of monkeypox ‘expected’ in Germany

Will a vaccine make a difference?

Since July, a vaccine has been authorised in 27 EU member states and in Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. 

The Standing Committee on Vaccination (STIKO) recommends vaccination against monkeypox in Germany for certain risk groups and people who have had close contact with infected people.

So far, the German government has ordered 240,000 vaccine doses, of which 40,000 had been delivered by Friday. 

Around 200,000 doses are set to follow by the end of September. 

The German Aids Federation (DAH) on Friday called for one million vaccine doses, stressing that the current supplies will fall short of meeting need.

“The goal must be to reduce the number of infections as quickly as possible and to get the epidemic permanently under control,” explained Ulf Kristal of the DAH board in Berlin on Friday.

But this is only possible, he said, if as many people at risk of infection as possible are vaccinated.

“We don’t assume the epidemic will be over when the doses available so far have been vaccinated,” Axel Jeremias Schmidt, Epidemiologist and DAH Consultant for Medicine and Health Policy, wrote in a press release.

As long as there are monkeypox infections, he said, people who are at risk must be offered vaccination.