German authorities have finally narrowed the field of suspects in an E. Coli outbreak affecting Europe, where a reported 31 people have died from a rare strain of the disease. Speaking at a June 10, 2011, press conference, Robert Koch Institute President Reinhard Burger confirmed that an organic bean sprout farm is the likely epicenter, putting to rest widespread public confusion as officials worked frantically—and sometimes erroneously—to pinpoint the source.
Although it lacked a set of definitive test results, the institute apparently based its conclusion on evidence showing that people who consumed the bean sprouts at one restaurant were nine times more likely to contract the illness, which has been linked to renal and neurological complications in approximately 700 out of 3,000 total cases. Authorities have since quarantined the Lower Saxony farm, but tomato, cucumber and lettuce farmers implicated at the outset are already seeking compensation for plummeting prices and a Russian ban on European agricultural imports. See The Guardian, The New York Times and Time, June 10, 2011.
Meanwhile, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack told USA Today that although he was “reasonably confident” the outbreak would not affect the United States, the European episode “reinforces that we need to remain vigilant here about food safety.” His concern was echoed by U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who introduced new meat safety legislation that would purportedly target “all high-risk pathogens and all currently unregulated strains of E. coli found in the meat supply.” Gillibrand has also issued a June 7, 2011, letter to USDA Undersecretary for Food Safety Elisabeth Hagen, urging the agency to list “all pathogenic forms of E. coli, not just 0157:H7, as an adulterant in our meat supply.” See USDA Today, June 8, 2011.