EU offers 2.1 million euros to research new killer E.coli

AFP, Ahram Online, Tuesday 9 Aug 2011

The deadly outbreak killed 51 people earlier this year, and was blamed on Egyptian fenugreek sprouts

E.coli sprouts
European Producers of cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, courgettes and sweet peppers in the have been promised compensation after incorrect accusations

The EU is to invest 2.1 million Euros in research on the new killer E.coli strain which infected almost 4,000 people and left 51 dead across Europe, causing massive losses to vegetable farmers.

The European Commission's decision on Tuesday "to get as full a scientific picture as possible" of virulent Escherichia coli came as Russia lifted a costly ban slapped on European Union vegetables over the row.

Russia, which imports a total 600 million Euros ($859 million) of EU vegetables a year, introduced the ban on June 2 after initial reports blamed European produce. The culprit was eventually found to be Egyptian fenugreek seeds.

Producers of cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, courgettesand sweet peppers in the EU, withdrawn from the market between late May and the end of June, have been promised 227 million Euros in compensation.

Funds to put the new killer strain under the microscope are part of a 12 million Euro research programme to reinforce Europe's capacity for tackling pathogens.

"The research will focus on ways to prevent future epidemics and deal with new outbreaks," the Commission said.

Last month, the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) labeled Egyptian fenugreek sprouts as the source of the E.coli outbreak. As a result, the European Union slapped a temporary ban on all seeds and beans from Egypt.

Cairo denied responsibility, and the Egyptian agriculture ministry said that the suspected batch dated back to November 2009 and contained dried seeds, arguing the bacteria could not have survived for so long.

"Scientifically, the bacteria cannot remain on this dry surface from 2009 till June 2011," the ministry said.

"If the fenugreek sprouts are suspected of being contaminated by an E. coli strain, it could be down to different processes such as their re-packing or the water used for sprouting," the statement added.

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