German E. Coli outbreak and regulating a global fresh food supply chain

The German E. Coli outbreak seems to be one of the first fresh food global supply chain problems that have come to the fore. Germany imports 40% of its cucumbers from Spain a total of 182,000 tonnes a year. Initially, German authorities blamed Spanish cucumber contamination for the deadly outbreak and now the Germans are saying that while Spanish cucumbers were  contaminated, they did not have the problematic  E. Coli strain.

As of today 18 people have died and 1600 are sickened and all had traveled to north Germany, 17 of the dead are Germans and one is a Swede. It turns out that Germany is the largest importer of fresh produce with a 6.6B$ import per year and US is the second largest importer importing about 6.5B $ of produce mostly from Mexico.  Regional free trade and movement of fresh produce facilitates commerce and brings new challenges to health and regulatory authorities.

It's sort of inexplicable how the Germans accused Spanish cucumber and banned that produce – ruining Spanish farmers while  sparking outrage in Spain.

The German response is the classic "pre-globalization" response to such type of problems. "Ban first and study later" is the mantra and  strategy for regulatory agencies in each country. Can't really blame the Governments who are trying to protect their citizens and consumers what with up to the second news from social media beyond the 24 hours news channels putting pressure on Governments to act.

If most of the produce is imported and that too from a multitude of countries as in Germany, things become tough to trace. There are hundreds of companies and contamination could have occurred at either the farm or at the retail packaging points.

Since we are talking fresh produce and farmers here who earn only during the season , the old response of simply banning produce is not an answer, given that Russia has now banned all EU produce. Global fresh food regulatory regimes would need to redefine co-operation and fresh food supply chains would need to build more easy tracking.

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