Spain seeks compensation for E. coli blame

Anger is growing in Spain over being blamed as the source of the E. coli outbreak that has killed 18 people and left hundreds more seriously ill.Spanish PM Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said Spain would demand reparations for the economic losses suffered.The outbreak, centred on Germany, has been caused by a new form of the E. coli bacterium, health experts say.Seven people in the UK have the infection. They are all thought to have contracted it in Germany.Spanish fruit and vegetable exporters estimate they are losing 200m euros ($290m; £177m) a week in sales after Germany said earlier in the outbreak that it probably originated with Spanish cucumbers.No evidence of this has been found and researchers are scrambling to find the source.”We acted as we had to, and we are going to get reparations and the return of Spanish products to their rightful place,” said Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero.”I believe that any other interpretation or any effort to politicise the huge mistake made by the German authorities is totally unfair.”Tens of thousands of kilos of fresh fruit and vegetables grown in Spain are being destroyed, says the BBC’s Sarah Rainsford in Almeira, Spain’s “fruitbasket”.Sales to supermarkets across Europe have ground to a halt, our correspondent says: not just of cucumbers, but of everything.The European Union has urged Russia – its largest export market for vegetables – to drop its ban on the import of fresh vegetables, describing the move as totally disproportionate.The outbreak remains centred on Germany, where there have been 1,064 cases of bloody diarrhoea and 470 cases of haemolytic-uraemic syndrome (HUS), which affects the kidneys and can be fatal.Seventeen people in Germany and one in Sweden have died. Cases of HUS have also been reported in Denmark, the Netherlands and Spain.Three people in the US, who have travelled recently to Germany, are suspected of having HUS.Scientists at the Beijing Genomics Institute in China – where they are researching the strain – said the outbreak appeared to to be due to a new form of the E. coli bacterium that was “highly infectious and toxic”.The World Health Organization said the variant had “never been seen in an outbreak situation before”.Speaking to Reuters news agency, Dr Robert Tauxe of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the strain was probably the most deadly yet. – BBC