Category Archives: Health

Bad Chemistry

By Peter Černuta

Photo credit: (CC-BY)

A team of scientists in hazmat suits stumble over the bright sand dunes of Denmark’s western coast. They are trying to figure out how to get rid of 170 tonnes of one the most hazardous pesticides in existence, ethyl parathion, which lies buried in a thick layer 4 to 8 meters deep in the once pristine Danish sands.

The site is the legacy of chemicals giant Cheminova, which several decades ago dumped hundreds of tonnes of toxic waste on a beach close to its industrial compound.

The site, with an ominous name, “Jetty 42”, lay there, forgotten, until the 1980s when toxic compounds started leaking into the North Sea. This prompted a response from the Danish state, which commissioned the excavation of over 1,200 tonnes of toxic sand and slapped it into 26,000 barrels that were then deposited in a salt mine in neighbouring Germany. They thought the problem was solved, but as many as 170 tonnes of the toxic substance remained in the contaminated soil. While this is only a fraction of what was dumped decades ago, it is still enough to deprive an average Danish town of its residents. “The majority of the contamination is parathion, which is a very highly toxic insecticide,” says Morten Bondgaard, leader of the international cleanup project. According to World Health Organisations (WHO) estimates, 3 grams of the substance, which is chemically related to a family of war and nerve gases, is more than enough to kill an adult person.

“[Cheminova] produced most of the toxic waste that is in there in the 50s and 60s, they had a permit to deposit the waste in the sand dunes right next to the company,” explains Bondgaard. But he is quick to add that Cheminova is not the only culprit. The Danish state had also used the site to dispose of various chemicals, as far from Copenhagen as possible. “They did it because they thought this area is so polluted anyway, and we have all this waste, so let’s dump it here.” The 3-year cleanup project Bondgaard runs is estimated to costs somewhere between 6 and 8 million euros and is expected to be complete by 2013.

And while it might seem that dumping materials of such toxicity is perverse enough, the story does not end there. The fact is that methyl parathion, a slightly less potent variant of parathion, is still being manufactured and sold to developing countries to be used as pesticide on cotton, rice and fruit, despite being practically banned in the rest of the world.

The reason for this is purely economical – money: These highly toxic chemicals, classified as Class I according to WHO hazard scale, are relatively cheap and therefore widely used in developing countries. And while developed countries such as Denmark and the rest of the EU have strong regulatory bodies and rules for the use of such chemicals, developing nations do not, and their farmers are forced to expose themselves to potentially fatal substances if they want to earn a living.

Organisations or networks such as Pesticides Action Network (PAN) working to replace the use of hazardous pesticides with safer, sustainable alternatives, have difficulties keeping up with the cat and mouse game the giant pesticides producers play as they exchange one pesticide formula for another when regulators get on to them. Kavitha Kuruganti from India’s Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), a member of PAN, says: ”The pesticides campaign here in India has always talked about all the chemicals in agriculture to be eliminated. We’ve always gone about it is by proving that farming can be done without syntetical pesticides. There are many examples which reveal that pesticides are not necessary, especially to the extent they are used today.”

A lucrative market

With a pesticide market worth 6.9 billion US dollars, Brazil is a great business for pesticides producers. In 2008, the country became the world’s top consumer of agriculture pesticides (ahead of the US), and continues to use a range of dangerous pesticides banned in other countries, according to a study released by Brazil’s National Health Surveillance Agency.

Its government, much like the governments of other nations in development, are rarely in a position to prohibit them, either because their farmers cannot afford the more expensive but less hazardous pesticides, or because the chemical cartels use their power of monopoly to bully the regulators into submission.

“They do pressure the government…They do that a lot,” says Luiz Cláudio Meirelles, head of the pesticides department at the Brazilian Ministry of Health. “They [the chemical companies] tried to stop us from doing our job by going into court and issuing a restriction against our regulation, but we won. So we could actually go on with our job,” he says.

With the resources giant chemical corporations like Monsanto, Dow Chemical, Bayer CropScience and also Cheminova have at disposal, it is difficult not to imagine them being able to create enough pressure to have their way. In the case of methyl parathion in Brazil, it took an international campaign to give the Brazilian regulator the power to start the re-evaluation process. “There is a way of regulating this kind of pesticides, that every five years, the product is re-evaluated, but we don’t have that in Brazil,” explains Cláudio Meirelles. “So only when the story has an international effect, we are able to re-evaluate its effectiveness and side effects.” A similar account is also heard from Brazil’s non-governmental sector. Fernanda Sirineo from the Permanent Campaign Against Agrochemicals and For Life, a coalition of Brazilian farmers, NGOs, and student groups against the corporate takeover of the agriculture and spiralling pesticide contamination, tries hard to explain in English what they are up against: “Brazil’s government has been very permissive with those factories that produces pesticides… because our legislation doesn’t prohibit [it] and the government is subordinate to transnational factories.”

Brazil is now in the process of re-evaluating several dangerous substances, including methyl parathion, to ban them from use. “When we do a re-evaluation, we have to discuss with whoever is interested on the topic, like the companies, and it’s not easy,” he says. And indeed, it isn’t.

“You don’t bite the hand that feeds you”

Such pressures are not limited to the developing world alone. Even in Denmark, the home of Cheminova and, supposedly, one of the richest, happiest and least corrupt countries in the world, such companies wield a frighteningly potent yet evasive clout. Cheminova has a curious ownership structure – the University of Aarhus, through the Aarhus University Research Foundation, holds a controlling stake in the company for historical reasons, and receives between 3 and 5 million euros in dividends per year, depending how well the company is doing. But influence, it seems, flows in the same direction as the money. “There is a lot of money in the foundation which is then given for research at Aarhus University, so it’s obvious to anyone who wants to study this that there is a connection,” says Mette Jensen, a retired researcher from the National Environmental Research Institute (NERI), which is part of the university.

“There is an ongoing discussion among researchers that we are not going to have connection with the industries because we will be in their pockets, more or less. Of course they [the industries] have all these nice talks about how they will not intervene in your research, but everyone knows this is not the way it functions in reality. In reality, you don’t bite the hand that feeds you.”

In 2009, Jensen and four other researchers NERI, raised the question of whether Cheminova should cease to manufacture and sell methyl parathion and other highly hazardous substances. They were promptly threatened with a warning from the institute’s management.”We made a small survey among our colleagues and we sent the results of the survey to the chancellor of the university, but then our own director in the research institute didn’t want this criticque to come out, and the five of us were asked to talk to him and we were taken in individually and told that we are not to go forward to go with the case. They said it wasn’t a matter of freedom of speech, but a matter of misusing the email system, and this was, of course, nonsense.” Jensen decided to press forward, and the event sparked a large media debate over the freedom of speech at Aarhus University. It wasn’t until her trade union threatened with a lawsuit that the situation was resolved. ”They were very good. If they hadn’t done this I would have been fired probably,” Jensen says.

”There has been much silence about the case now,” she adds. Many employees at NERI are against the connection between Aarhus University and Cheminova, but most of them don’t want to step forward and talk about it, she explains.

”I got much support from my colleagues in face to face conversations: ’very good that you dare to take it forward, I’m a chicken and I dont dare’… people don’t like it but they don’t want to come forward,” she says.

”They think it can damage their career, and thats also the case probably. It would probably have damaged mine, at least if I wanted to be a manager or something like that”.

The question whether the Danish university should remain ‘hyggelig’ with a controversial pesticide manunfacturer is thus dragging on, and so does the dilemma whether it is ethical at all to sell highly-toxic pesticides to developing countries. Despite issuing many ”Corporate Social Reports” featuring lofty achivements, picture-perfect village projects and photographs of farmers dressed up in full protective gears that would normally cost them their yearly income and are hardly wearable in tropical heat, Cheminova continues nonchalantly to sell methyl parathion to Brazil.

But Ms Sirineo remains optimistic: ”We have started the Campanha in Brazil and a lot of organizations are joining the campaign. It is getting better.”

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Recurring Pest with Four Letters


Photo credit: globochem3x1minus1 (CC BY)

By Katharina Michael

The zero is most conspicuous. In iridescent colours the number flaunts from the fresh-off-the- press-brochure of the United Nations organization. Zero New Infection. Zero discrimination. Zero related-deaths.  By 2015.

The illness in question? It is not Tuberculosis, not the plague. It is the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, short AIDS. The message? AIDS is coming to an end.

This year AIDS celebrates his sad 30th birthday. It was in 1981 when the illness that already cost hundreds of lives finally got a name. Since  as early as 1940 AIDS raged throughout the planet. No country on earth was spared. 25 million lives later, AIDS could be halted. Or so they say.

2015 is the year of the millennium goals of the United Nations.  In this year boys and girls all over the world shall be able to complete a full course of primary schooling, extreme poverty shall be ended. And the spread of HIV shall be halted and be beginning to reverse. This is written in the report of the 2000 UN millennium summit.

The UNaids organization now went even a step further, announcing the goal of working “Towards zero new infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS- related deaths.” The AIDS- free generation is due in 2015. It is my generation, the people between 15 and 25 now, that will give birth then.

And, indeed, there is data that raise the hope of our children no longer being tightened in the grip of an illness that was once hysterically labelled as the scourge of mankind. The number of people newly infected with HIV declined by 19% in the last decade, according to the 2011 UNaids report. In 33 countries the rates dropped by at least 25%, among them some countries like Namibia in Sub-Saharan Africa, which are most affected. In December 2010 more than six million people were estimated to be receiving antiretroviral therapy in low- and middle-income countries.  The global prevention of mother-child transmission of HIV has exceeded 50%. Funding for HIV programmes increased.

A study by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) from the United States came in 2011 to further news: Men and women infected with HIV reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to their sexual partners by taking oral antiretroviral medicines.

Also doctors discover that some people have inherent antibodies, their immune system prevents an outbreak of the illness naturally. This raises hopes for a vaccine in the nearer future.

„It is paramount that new HIV infections be stopped. We need to achieve a transition that will see fewer people newly infected than are newly placed on treatment. Doing so will require decisive action guided by a groundbreaking vision: zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination, zero AIDS-related deaths“ explains Saira Stewart from UNaids.

‘Are you the aids- free generation?’ The campaign advertisement on the UNaids website asks. Are you? Are we? Your kids, our kids, the worlds kids of 2015?

We were too young to experience the big AIDS scare of the late 1980s and 90s. The campaigns, at least in Western Europe, were always present, on billboards, in brochures and in class. “Don’t die of ignorance” the TV spots said in the UK, “Use a condom”, we were told in Germany, before we even thought of sex. Do not touch needles lying around the school.  “Your first love could be your last. Don’t forget HIV”, says the slogan on the billboard next to my former school now. The picture shows a couple in the autopsy room. Why do we need this reminder?

When we grew up in the beginning of the new century, when we got interested in sex, AIDS rates were stable at around 0,2% among 15-49 year-olds, spreading mostly among men sleeping with men. AIDS drugs assured the infected an almost normal life, research was on its way.

We saw the warnings, we read the brochures, we listened to the experts at the family centre, and still we believed HIV was someone else’s problem.

With the epidemic now more than 25 years in, there is beginning to be a phenomenon called “AIDS fatigue”, meaning that people are tired of hearing about the epidemic and this can lead to apathy or a lack of leadership to adequately respond.

Today nearly half of all new HIV infections occur among young people between the ages of 15 and 24. The majorities of these occur in low- and middle-income countries with limited access to HIV-prevention information and care. But also in modern countries, AIDS seems to be on the rise again among the young.

For Northern America and western and central Europe AIDS rates grew from an estimated 1.8 million in 2001 to 2.3 million in 2009—an increase of 30% according to the UN report 2010. The new infection rose from 97,000 in 2001 to 100,000 in 2009.

“Every hour, two young people between 13 and 29 in the United States alone become infected,” says Dr. Blumenthal from AMFAR Aids Institute in the United States. This number is higher than in any other age group. And that is only the reported cases.

Among the more than one million people living with HIV/AIDS in the U.S., an estimated 21% do not even know they are infected, because they do not get tested. “The fear of HIV is dwindling”, says Stefanie Holm, board member of the association of doctors dealing with the medical care of HIV infected. “For many people, AIDS is an epidemic plague in continents far away”.

Zero discrimination

Birgit Kust[1] lives with AIDS. Not in Africa, but in a German village. It has been 4 years now since she has been diagnosed HIV positive, rather coincidentally,  two years since the breakout of the illness.  Still, she is struggling to speak about it, not even her friends know.

“When I go shopping and meet a neighbour, it’s always the same: ‘Hi, nice to see you, I heard you were sick, what was wrong?´ What do I say then? Should I say I am HIV positive? They would drop me in a second. For them, this illness does not exist.”

Birgit Kust is silent in order to protect her son and daughter from being teased. The few people she has told so far, did not react very encouragingly. „If I would have said, I have Leukemia or cancer, then everybody would have been there to be by my side”, she sighs, “but AIDS? They say I could have been more careful. Could have been. Yes, but are you always? Do you always do an HIV test when meeting someone?”

The woman in her forties has her own version of why AIDS is spreading again: “People do not like to talk about AIDS, they like to donate a bit of money and that’s it, keep it far away, as it is not their problem. But in my opinion, if all HIV positive people would run around with a blue dot on the forehead, we would all be blue. The people do not know they have it!”

Part of this unawareness is due to media coverage. Bernd Schmidt is member of AIDS organisation that each year awards journalists for outstanding German media pieces about HIV.  In the last years, he says, this is getting harder and harder. “Less articles, less quality”. Asked to comment on the media reaction to the “zero new infection” campaign by UNaids, he takes a moment to think, before he answers: “The most dangerous thing is to belittle AIDS. In any form.”

Is it possible that this lack of awareness put an end to the goal of zero- new infections, of an AIDS-free generation?

Less tests, less new infections

The country with the highest number of performed HIV tests in Europe is France. Five million citizens get tested every year. The prevalence rate of HIV in the population is among the highest on the continent, with 0.4% infected. For the young people the rate is 0,2%. That is 15,270 persons infected before their 25th birthday.

“We are trying to raise awareness, especially in lower-income areas and among gay men and immigrants”, says Gabrielle Issaverdens from the French National Institute for Public Health Surveillance. “It is important to get as many people tested as possible, only if you know, you can get help and protect others”.

In Germany the data how many people were tested only exists for the year 2002. Over two million got a test, if that included people being tested before blood donations XY from the Robert- Koch Institute can not say. “We only get reported new- infections, not how many people are actually tested”.

What is frequently reported in surveys is the number of people admitting having had unprotected sex. “Condom nations” is the title of the study by Miguel Fontes and Peter Roach, published in 2007. The results were surprising: the richer the country the more sexual partners people had and the greater the likelihood of having unprotected sex.

In Norway more than 70 percent admitted having unprotected sex without knowing the partner’s history. Even in South-Africa, a country with an estimated AIDS rate of almost 20 percent, more than 60 percent had unprotected sex. This sets a difficult task  for a nation in which an AIDS- struck generation instead of an AIDS- free one seems to be on the move.

Zero AIDS- related deaths

In the Mankweng hospital in the South-African district of Limpopo time is tight. Too few doctors, too few resources, too many sick people, too little time. It is hard to get Juliane Albrecht on the phone for more than three minutes. The young doctor is committed to her work. With the limited resources, she is trying her best. “HIV is always a part of our work, every day you have to be careful”, says Juliane Albrecht, “zero new infection? Zero AIDS-related deaths? We here are far, far from that”.

Mother-child transmission remains one of the toughest challenges. “To reduce the new infections it would mean, stop all the infected women now from giving birth. In Europe an infected woman, who has a caesarean and does not breastfeed has a good chance of having a healthy kid. But here it is more difficult. We hardly do caesareans, the risk is too high to kill both, mother and child.”

When asked about the possibility of taking AIDS drugs prophylactic, like the doctors of the NIAID suggested, it takes her some time to answer. “It has been discussed here, to give it to 15 to 21 year old girls, a group of high risk to reduce this time of special danger, but many disagree”. The reasons for the doubts are various. “Some doctors argue that the effect could not be proved yet, others doubt the reliability of the participants since such drugs are very expensive and worth quite a bit on the black market”.

The „zero new infection“ campaign is already the third major UN initiative about AIDS in the last eleven years. Former goals included „Three by five“, three million people getting treatment by 2005 and „Universal Access“, AIDS drugs for everybody by 2010.

In 2010, 10 million still awaited treatments, in 2015, when the UN claims „Zero new-infection, zero discrimination and zero aids-related deaths“ it will be 13 million people. In the Philippines alone, the AIDS rate will be rising by 500%, predicts Ofelia Monzon from UNaids Philippines. “And that is only based on the reported cases”.

The zero is an aim we are working towards“, says Saira Stewart from UNaids about the campaign „we need to set the goal. AIDS is declining universally. We are raising awareness“.

Birgit Kust is aware of the campaign. She saw an information-stand by activists at the town square. She passed by without looking twice. She was afraid somebody might think she has anything to do with Aids.

[1] Name changed

While the end of AIDS is proclaimed the disease is on the rise again among the young

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E. Coli: The Aftermath

Photo credit: PlaxcoLab (CC BY-SA)

By Gabriella Vas

On June 12, 2011, yet another German died of kidney failure due to an E. Coli infection.

With this, the death toll of one of the world’s largest known E. Coli outbreaks rose to 36, while registered cases amount to 3325 in 13 EU states, according to the latest update published by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

Though the bacterium Escherichia Coli is generally a harmless inhabitant of the human and animal gut, its Shiga-toxin producing (STEC) strains can cause severe enteric and systemic disease in humans and lead to serious complications, such as kidney failure due to haemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).

The disease spreads through contact with animals unaffected by the deadly strain, and through contaminated food or water. Person-to-person transmission, though also possible, has not been reported in this outbreak.

Even a small dose of the bacteria can set off the infection, with the first symptoms appearing after 3 to 8 days. Treatment consists mostly of rehydration; antibiotics may do more harm than good, triggering a further release of the toxin or a deterioration into HUS.

While similar infections usually affect children, the majority of patients in this outbreak are adults, predominantly women, a risk-assessment report by the ECDC revealed. Almost exclusively, cases are located in or have traveled to Northern Germany.

Farmers’ Clamors Successful

The outbreak was first reported by Germany on May 22 through the Early Warning and Response System (EWRS) of the EU. Initially, cucumbers and other raw vegetables from Spain were suspected of carrying the bacteria. German authorities warned against the consumption of these, and they were promptly removed from the market.

On June 1, tests conducted by Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) lifted the blame from the incriminated batch of produce, but by this time, Spanish agricultural exporters had already claimed a profit loss of 200 million euros weekly, and demanded compensation.

According to press releases by the European Commission, at the meeting of health care ministers on June 6, Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy John Dalli expressed regrets concerning the farmers’ damages, but pointed out that in such a case of emergency, quick updates to the public are just as important as verifying information.

The following day, at the EC meeting for agricultural ministers, Commissioner for Agriculture Dacian Ciolos proposed a 150 million euro compensation to the affected producers from the common EU budget, amounting to about 30% of their damages. As several member states pushed for 100% compensation, the Commissioner promised to propose an amendment in the regulations that would permit this increase.

Given the relative success of European farmers to claim compensation for their loss of profit, the question arises: what about the people who have suffered a much more serious damage, that of health, due to the same outbreak?

History Repeating?

Precedents include the serial blunders of the leading Norwegian meat producer Gilde, with repeated cases of contamination between December 2005 and May 2006, which led to over a dozen children falling ill, one of whom died. Though, after several recalls and tests exposing outrageous hygienic conditions, the guilt of Gilde was beyond doubt, it in turn accused retailers, and even the Norwegian Food Safety Authority faced charges of mishandling the situation. Eventually, though, Gilde offered a compensation of 20000 to 175000 NOK (2500 to 22300 euros) to 18 victims, reported.

In a different case of food contamination, earlier this year in Germany, up to 3000 tons of animal feed additive were found to contain traces of dioxin, a substance known to cause cancer in humans, according to BBC Online. Though authorities declared that the level of dioxin in the affected products did not pose a health risk, consumers were advised to “keep an eye out” for possibly tainted eggs and poultry.

Harles&Jentzsch, the company that had produced the contaminated feed, was to be fined or face up to three years in prison based on German law, though officials pressed for a tightening of the regulations to impose stricter penalties.

However, as a May update by the Meat Trade News Daily revealed, Harles&Jentzsch might eventually get away with a 20000 euro fine. That is a relatively mild punishment, considering that the food scandal H&J brought about cost thousands of animal lives and a dramatic loss of revenue for the entire German meat and eggs sector.

To cite another example, in January 2011, victims of an E. Coli outbreak in Britain were granted eligible for compensation upon successful negotiation by the solicitors Hodge, Jones and Allen. It appears that in the summer of 2009, all of them had visited a farm in Surrey which keeps tame goats, cows and other animals for petting.

Faced with evidence that a deadly strain of E. Coli had been detected in the animals’ pens, and that it remained open for two weeks after the first infections had been reported, the farm declined to dispute its liability. 93 people contracted the disease, including some children who suffered so serious kidney damage that they may need organ replacements in the future.

No One In Charge

“I am sorry we cannot answer your questions”, confessed Dr Stefan Etgeton, Head of Health and Nutrition at the Federation of German Consumer Organizations (VZBV). “This is not an issue we have been working on”, commented Ophélie Spanneut of the European Consumers’ Organization (BEUC) in Brussels.

“These questions are too specialized for me to answer”, reflected Márton Hajdú, spokesperson for the Hungarian Presidency of the European Commission. His colleague, Eszter Lantos added: “The issue of liability in case of such an outbreak is beyond the scope of the EC, which fulfills merely an overseeing role, and more likely to be discussed on member state level.”

Who, then, is in charge of liability and compensation issues in case of an international, food-borne disease outbreak in Europe? Like the gravy bowl at Thanksgiving, the question was passed around among food safety, health and consumer protection organizations, on a European level as well as in the most affected Germany and Denmark.

Eventually, a pattern began to emerge. The core principles of food safety and risk management are the same throughout Europe: observing the entire food chain, with regulations and inspections “from farm to fork”; traceability of all foodstuffs; and, most importantly, separating risk assessment from risk management.

To make sure that scientific research of such importance is not affected by political interests, risk assessment is the duty of independent institutions, which then advise policymakers in charge of risk management. Ideally, transparent risk communication takes place at various levels: within the research community, between government and industry, and, ultimately, towards the public. In order to minimise risk, precautionary measures may be taken even before it is fully assessed.

In the EU, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) plays the role of independent scientific advisor to the European Commission, the EP and the European Council, working closely with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), and the European office of the World Health Organization (WHO).

The German correspondent of the EFSA is the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), providing information to the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV), which is in charge of food safety legislation and risk management measures. If there was any knowledge that would point towards a solution, it was at the BfR, where tests were being conducted to identify the source of the current outbreak.

No One To Blame

In the meantime, on June 10, the official warning against cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce was cancelled, and suspicion turned to sprouts produced by a farm in Uelzen, south of Hamburg. Up to that day, no claims for compensation by E. Coli patients or families of victims had reached the governments of Germany or Denmark – quite understandably, given the obscurity surrounding the origin of the outbreak.

“In order to confirm our hypothesis, the same strain of bacteria needs to be found on more samples”, explained Jürgen Thier-Kundke, press official at the BfR. “Currently we have some 4-500 sprout samples waiting to be tested. But with the suspicious batch of sprouts soon to expire, it will be increasingly difficult to find further samples. Maybe some leftovers tucked away in somebody’s fridge…”

He added: “In three quarters of food-poisoning outbreaks, the source is never identified. Furthermore, in the present case, so far, no sign of human failure or negligence has been found anywhere in the food chain. It’s quite possible that no one is to blame. The BfR pointed out as early as a year ago that raw produce, by default, carries the risk of bacterial infection. Not just of E. Coli, but salmonella, listeria, what have you.”

The following day, tests conducted with the remaining samples at the BfR went on to prove that it was in fact the sprouts grown at the Uelzen farm that had triggered the outbreak. The BfR press release did not conclude that the producer was in any way responsible.

Battle Over Liability Could Drag On

“E. Coli compensation claims are possible when it can be established that the condition was caused by a failure to adequately prevent E.Coli from being passed on”, it reads on the website of Hodge, Jones and Allen, solicitors dealing with personal injury claims such as E. Coli.

Partner Melanie Williams, and specialist on the issue, elaborated: “If claims are made in connection with holiday travel to Germany, patients can sue the travel agency; if they are linked to the consumption of imported food, the retailer is to be held liable, both under the Consumer Protection Act. In the latter case, the claimant must provide a sample of the defective product as evidence. As for the consumers’ eventual responsibility to stay informed of latest updates or to refrain from eating the indicated vegetables raw, the Consumer Protection Act is not concerned with that – it cannot be expected of people to take such risks into account.”

She added: “The Consumer Protection Act applies only within the UK legislation, but since it reflects EU law, all member states are bound to have similar legislation. That is, although the international nature of this outbreak certainly complicates matters, patients are most likely expected to file compensation claims within their respective countries. Procedures may take up to several years, depending on various factors, such as the opponent’s willingness to cooperate, the course of the disease and the length of medical treatment, as well as the number of people claiming damages. Usually, larger groups take longer to sort out.”

Outlooks Hazy

Fair enough, the story of this devastating disease is far from over, in fact, it evolves from day to day. True, an outbreak of such magnitude, crossing several borders, is bound to entail some confusion. Still, it is difficult to understand why such a crucial issue as health liability has remained practically unheard of so far.

The overall reluctance of officials and experts to deal with the problem is puzzling. All the more so, given the prompt reaction of the European Commission to the claims of the agricultural producers, promising them compensation while also defending, and standing in for, the counter-accused German authorities.

To wrap it up: not only is bloody diarrhea one of the nastiest diseases to die of or to lose a loved one to. Chances are, it’ll prove to be just as nasty when (if ever) it comes to eking out a compensation.

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