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Matthew Farley


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I don’t know why every one finds it so attractive to take it out on Spain. – Spain’s agricultural minister.
The use of human faeces in the growth of agricultural products has always seemed wrong somehow, though we have used animal manure in growing vegetables for many years.
A couple of years ago, lettuce and Chinese cabbage were added to the list of products being sold on the Warrens circuit until there was a charge that the non-national vendors might have used human stool as fertilizer in the growth of the products. Then all of a sudden, the citizens of the country that built our lone gymnasium literally disappeared from that emerging outdoor marketplace.
But even before this incident, the use of human waste in the growing of vegetables by the Chinese living in Barbados was a choice story in our folklore, yet to be substantiated.
The food-borne bacterial outbreak that has hit Germany and other European nations is unlike anything Western experts have seen: 16 people are dead and over 1 100 are sick, including nearly 400 suffering severe and potentially fatal symptoms. But several days into the health threat, scientists remain unsure what produce and which country is responsible.
Investigators across Europe were frantically trying to determine the scope of the contamination by an unusual strain of the common E.coli germ. German authorities pointed to a few cucumbers from Spain, but further tests showed that those vegetables, while contaminated, did not cause the outbreak.
In Germany, where the vast majority of deaths and severe illnesses have been reported, officials said that investigations, including interviews with patients, have shown that people might have been infected from eating raw cucumbers, tomatoes or lettuce. Germany has warned consumers to avoid those vegetables, and Russia went so far as to ban imports of those vegetables from Spain or Germany.
But how much do we know about the E.coli bacteria? In its most severe form, the infections it causes can attack the kidneys, sometimes causing seizures, strokes and comas. The bacteria involved in the latest outbreak causes more severe symptoms, ranging from bloody diarrhoea to haemolytic uraemic syndrome.
This is a rare kidney condition that the most seriously ill patients are suffering from. (Healthylivinganswers.comarchives/89)
At least 373 people in Germany and 15 in Sweden have come down with the syndrome, which normally kills roughly five per cent of the patients who get it. Escherichia coli can cause problems other than gastroenteritis. It is responsible for urinary tract infections, bacterial vaginosis, haemolytic uraemic syndrome and neonatal meningitis.
The syndrome is not just a short-term problem. Ten to 20 years after they recover, between 30.5 per cent of survivors will have some kidney-caused problem. (
According to Dr Robert Tauxe, a food-borne disease expert at the United States Centres For Disease Control And Prevention, “it’s ‘extraordinary’ to see so many cases of the kidney complication from a food-borne illness”. In 1996, an E.coli outbreak in Britain caused 216 cases and 11 deaths. The world witnessed this cross-contamination in 2006 when a batch of spinach was contaminated and made over 240 individuals very ill. (Associated Press)
Two cases from the latest outbreak have been reported in the United States, and both people had recently travelled to Hamburg, Germany, where many of the infections occurred. According to the World Health Organization, 86 per cent of those sickened were adults, and two thirds were women. It said it was unusual that more children weren’t affected.
The European Commission has subsequently rescinded its health warning against cucumbers from Spain, according to a statement from the Spanish health ministry.
Spanish officials have been denying accusations that their country was the cause of a deadly E.coli outbreak that has swept across Germany and Sweden. The health warning was lifted after Spanish authorities shared negative test results on the produce in question with the commission. (
The effect of this scandal on the economy of Spain has been significant. Even as talk of compensation surfaces, farmers are fearful that the unfair blame will have far-reaching financial consequences. Two greenhouses in Spain that were identified as the source of the contaminated cucumbers have ceased activities. The apportioning of wrongful blame at the individual level is bad enough. When that blame is placed on the shoulders of a country, it is a different matter.
So while the European countries sit around the food table, reminiscent of the Last Supper with our Lord and ask, like Peter: “Is it I?”, we in the Caribbean must be cautious about plunging headlong into growing vegetables using non-traditional methods, good though they may be, but which have the potential to threaten how we move, eat and have “souse”.