This story has already been comprehensively hammered over at Counting Cats and is well worth a read.
I'm not at all surprised that some dozy cretin is trying to use the outbreak to further a personal agenda - that was certain to happen, and happen a lot - but at the utter stupidity of the way it's done.
Yes, 'terrorists' could try poisoning food and I am sure they've thought of it, discussed it, and found that it is logistically impossible. There is a way to bring down cities with infection but I'm not going to be so irresponsible as to publish it here. Food is no good as a vehicle for such an attack, certainly not in the UK.
Heve you seen current food legislation? One copy could account for half a rainforest. Suppliers are tested, ingredients are tested, food process lines are tested, the final product is tested and any fail at any stage on any test and the whole lot is recalled. All the tests are documented and the labs doing the testing are accredited, so everything they do is documented too, on the other half of the rainforest. In writing, not on computer, because every entry must be initialled and changes must be initialled too. Right down to who checked the pH meter and the balance and the incubator temperatures, when they did it and the result. Anything out of compliance triggers a whole series of irritating and time-consuming checks.
Any contaminated ingredient will not only be caught, it can be traced back through the documentation to exactly where it came from. You cannot contaminate the UK food supply without getting caught, and your chances of getting any through to the point of sale are so small as to make the whole exercise futile. You can't even sell home made jam at a country fair these days without enough paperwork to make a Vogon cry.
You could really only contaminate food on the shelves, and then CCTV will catch you. It caught the mad biochemist who poisoned food with atropine (a stupid choice - as soon as it's identified as atropine you start your search with biochemists because nobody else knows what it is) and he only did a few items. Contaminate a whole shelf? Not a chance.
So yes, I am sure various terrorist groups have thought about it but the reason they have not done anything about it is that there is virtually no chance of success, and every chance of being traced.
Look at that current outbreak. It came from salads. The Germans tried to blame it on Spanish cucumbers so it wouldn't look like their fault. At that stage, the only fact known was that it came from salads, but not which part of the salad.
Now it's stated that it came from beansprouts which wouldn't be routinely tested for E. coli - but the water used to wash them should have been. In the UK, water supplies are tested. If you have a well and it's just for your own use, you are not required to get it tested. If you supply that water to anyone else - even if you don't charge for it - then you have to get it tested. Using it to wash farm produce for sale counts as supplying it to someone else too.
The test is cheap and if you run any food business using non-mains water, you'd be daft to ignore it because it can save you a lot of litigation. Mains water is tested by the water companies because they don't want to be sued either. Same for bottled water. There is an awful lot of testing going on behind the scenes.
Escherichia coli only comes from one place. Shit. So if it's there in the food, there's shit in the food. Not necessarily human. It's used to detect faecal contamination because it's easy to find and if there's crap around, it's certain to be there. Usually, this bacterium isn't dangerous but if there's crap in the food then Salmonella and a whole range of other nasties might well be there too.
So was the farm water tested? At the moment I haven't been able to find out. I don't know whether German regulations are the same as UK ones, maybe it didn't have to be, but Germans without regulations are like cars without wheels. Unthinkable.
Where else could it have come from? Fertiliser? Why would anyone bother to fertilise beansprouts? They only need to grow a few inches before harvest. Yet there are personal-agenda idiots in Germany who want to blame the waste from biogas plants for this (thanks to an anonymous tipster).
Ernst-Günther Hellwig, director of the Agricultural and Veterinary Academy in Horstmar, warns that the bacteria likely comes from new sources, saying the epidemic is a house-made German problem. ‘It is possible that the EHEC contagion comes from biogas plants,’ he said.”
Evidence? Who needs it? It's possible that the EHEC* comes from outer space, there's as much evidence for that as for this assertion. Besides, it's not possible for it to have come from a biogas plant. They heat the waste to 70C for an hour before sending it out as fertiliser. At that temperature, any E. coli present are dead within the first minute. Outer space is actually more likely. But this guy hates biogas plants so they must be blamed. I'm surprised smokers haven't been blamed yet.
Hellwig is not alone in this belief.
Loonies rarely are.
Die Welt also writes that laboratory director Bernd Schottdorf, founder of the 1500-employee private medical laboratory Schottdorf MVZ in Augsburg, the biggest in Europe, also thinks the connection is possible.
Well, that's the appeal to authority firmly in place. Let's see what this learned gentleman has to say.
“Spores survive the biogas plants’ prescribed hygienization of 70°C without a problem“, he says. “We don’t know if the hygienization is properly carried out at all biogas plants.” When waste product from biogas plants is spread on fields, they can contaminate the vegetables.
Okay. The head of the biggest private medical laboratory in Europe thinks that E. coli can form spores. German medical research is in big, big trouble if this is their best man. E. coli cannot form spores. It will be dead in under a minute at 70C, and an hour at 70C will kill a good number of those bacteria that can form spores too.
Also, the fermentation process for biogas is not E. coli-friendly. There aren't likely to be many in that waste even before it heads to the heaters.
Finally, what the hell do you mean you don't know if the process is done correctly? You're German, aren't you? Even in the UK, we check. I know, I've actually done the tests on the treated 'cake' myself. It's not hard and it's not expensive. I find it hard to believe that the Germans have a relaxed attitude to such things.
The rest of the article is pure scaremongering, just like the Daily Fear's. Spores sticking to plants despite the rain and despite the fact that none of them could possibly be related to E. coli, farmers who use shit-sprayers for irrigation as if the dilute stuff is far more deadly than the real thing (that sounds familiar) and really, who could possibly believe that anyone is going to drive a tractor spraying crap through a beansprout field? You wouldn't be able to find your crop afterwards.
In the absence of person-to-person spread, the level of contamination needed to infect so many people would have to be huge. No fertiliser could do it. Even if it's like O157 and has a low infective dose, where ten bugs is enough to infect, that still needs a lot of bacteria to reach so many people. Something, somewhere is heavily contaminated so it shouldn't be hard to find.
Water? Do any of those farm workers drink water at the farm? If so, and if the water is contaminated enough to put an infective dose into the beansprouts, then the farm workers must all be infected. Even the wash spray would be enough to infect them. Are any? There's been no mention.
Okay. So we can rule out the biogas plants as nonsense. The water is a possibility, but I'd be surprised if it wasn't tested and the level it would need to be contaminated with would not escape testing even if a badly-trained monkey did it. Salads are not routinely tested for E. coli (well, they didn't used to be but that might change now) because it only comes from guts and plants don't have any. Shit-sprayers are not likely to be used much on salad crops, certainly not anywhere near harvest time, because farmers don't like committing economic suicide. And nobody in their right mind would buy any form of fertiliser for a crop that's harvested when it's a few inches high.
It's not making sense. Beansprouts as a vehicle for E. coli infection is unlikely to start with. Not impossible, but I wouldn't expect to see more than a few cases from such a source, nor indeed from any salad source. There simply should not be enough bacteria on the food and this one won't grow at all on chilled plant material. Add to that a new and previously unknown strain, a particularly nasty one, and it looks very wrong.
Deliberate? Some think so. I don't. E. coli is a rubbish bioweapon. It's easy to find and deal with. It doesn't last long outside a gut. It can't form spores so it can't be easily stored. Pasteurisation kills it.
Food as a vector for a weapon is also lousy. There are so many checks and tests at so many stages that even if something does get through, it can be traced right back to the origin and stamped on.
Why is the infection still happening? If the beansprouts were the source, dump the beansprouts and it's all over. I suppose we'll know in a few days whether that's worked. But beansprouts are not the source. They can't be. They don't have intestines. They could be the vector, but not the source.
There is also the question of how a new and deadly strain suddenly appeared in sufficient concentration to infect thousands. E. coli does not grow on beansprouts. It does not grow in soil. It has to come from a gut and this one, this particular one, must have come from a gut that wasn't at all well. Not necessarily a human gut. It lives in most animals. Could even come from an insect.
Now that's a line worth pursuing. An insect might carry this without being ill, and insects tend to arrive in big gangs. A lot of them like to nibble on plants too, and they shit everywhere. Tiny pellets you can't even see but which are loaded with bacteria.
Anyone looking for the actual source, I wonder, or are they all content to blame their own personal bugbears? Meanwhile, the sewers will run with blood...
[Sorry to fill the blog with work, but I like work.]
*EHEC - entero-haemorrhagic E. coli. In layman's terms, it makes you shit blood.