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Parallels between the EHEC crisis and the corona virus: trade fears

"It remains to be seen whether we have learned from previous epidemics"

There is still a lot of uncertainty about what the exact impact of the corona virus will be on trade. However, this is not the first case of a pathogen having such a major impact on trade: nine years ago, the EHEC epidemic raged in Germany and 53 people died.

"There were many problems in dealing with the situation at that time," an industry player comments. "There were widespread warnings for greenhouse vegetables (lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes), but it turned out later that sprouted vegetables were to blame."

The consequences for the European fruit and vegetable sector were serious and ultimately producers were compensated by the EU. "In Germany, people became ill and the producers also suffered because of the false accusation of greenhouse products. In Spain, for example, one of the main suppliers of these products to the German market, the consequences for production companies were serious. It remains to be seen whether we have learned from previous epidemics."

The case of EHEC was a regional problem. Now we are facing a global crisis: "The scale today is much greater. Back then, Germany and the Mediterranean region were affected, with effects on fruit and vegetables in particular. The corona virus paralyses all areas of daily life."

For the next few weeks and months, he has concerns about the trade: "People have to keep buying food. The virus could be transmitted via (unpackaged) goods. And even if the products themselves are not contaminated or protected by packaging, people could still be infected by employees or other consumers in the stores." The upcoming vegetable season in Germany could thus face significant problems.

There is a lack of emergency plans and preparations for cases like this. "We are stuck somewhere between helplessness and excessive preventive consumer protection, which in the past has often caused more problems than it has cured. Either way - the German fruit trade will suffer from the situation."

"In the case of EHEC, a much greater bureaucratic burden was placed on producers, cooperatives and traders, but prices remained the same and in the long run even tended to fall if they had had to move up accordingly. Vegetables were wrongly blamed for spreading a disease, but in the end they still suffered the damage. That's what we're afraid of now..."

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