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The Associated Press June 1, 2011, 7:41AM ET

Spain hints at legal action over E. coli scare

Spain is considering legal action against German authorities for saying that Spanish vegetables may be to blame for an E. coli outbreak that has killed more than a dozen and sickened hundreds, an official said Wednesday.

Deputy Prime Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said "we do not rule out taking actions against Hamburg authorities who have questioned the quality of our products."

Spain has complained that German authorities pointed the finger at Spanish produce before the result of tests were known. The allegations have virtually paralyzed exports of Spanish fruit and vegetables, causing major financial losses.

After days of uncertainty Hamburg officials said Tuesday that tests showed that Spanish cucumbers which were examined had traces of a dangerous strain of E. coli bacteria, but not the one that caused the outbreak.

Spanish farmers said they are still calculating their losses and damage to others hit by fear of Spanish produce -- truckers, packagers, bar and restaurant owners, for instance.

An agricultural association called Asaja said "the crisis is not over" even after Germany changed course and said Spanish cucumbers it tested did have E. coli but not the strain causing the outbreak.

Asaja president Pedro Barato said there was a small rise in orders for Spanish produce at wholesale markets Wednesday. But he called this a drop in the bucket in an industry that does euro9 billion ($12.95 billion) a year in business and exports up to euro300 million ($430) a week.

Barato said the sector needs an urgent public relations campaign to resurrect the image of Spanish agricultural products and that Asaja will seek compensation for all the lost revenue. He did not clarify if it would be from the Spanish government, the EU or both.

"A lot of damage has been done and someone has to pay," he told a news conference.


Daniel Woolls contributed to this report

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