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France should pay if E.coli warning wrong: British MEP

The plant watering system is seen shut down at a farm where E.coli bacteria was found in Nieder-Erlenbach on the outskirts of Frankfurt
The plant watering system is seen shut down at a farm where E.coli bacteria was found in Nieder-Erlenbach on the outskirts of Frankfurt

BORDEAUX, France (Reuters) - A British MEP called on France to pay compensation if a British company linked by the French government to an E.coli outbreak in Bordeaux turned out not to be responsible.

Seven people were still in hospital on Sunday, with one 78-year-old woman in a serious condition, after being infected by E.coli bacteria, according to the hospital.

The French ministry of commerce said Ipswich-based Thompson & Morgan may be behind the outbreak and told stores to stop selling fenugreek, mustard and rocket seeds supplied by the firm while tests were carried out. The ministry said the link between the symptoms and the seeds bought in the Bordeaux suburb of Begles was not definitive.

The company said it did not believe it was responsible.

"If the French have got this wrong, pre-emptively coming out in the public sphere and the link is not proven, then they must be held responsible for what could be hundreds of thousands of pounds of further damage to the vegetable and to the salad market from East Anglia and Britain," European parliament member Richard Howitt said in a statement on Sunday.

French authorities said at least six of the people hospitalized in Bordeaux ate sprouted salad vegetables sold at a local fair which had been grown from seeds bought from a shop supplied by Thompson & Morgan.

"These seeds may have been sourced in Italy, packaged and sold from Ipswich, but then handled and sold at a school fete in a small French town near Bordeaux, so it is far from clear when as well as if E.coli could have entered the chain," said Howitt, whose constituency includes Ipswich.

German authorities came under fire earlier this year in their investigation into a lethal outbreak of E.coli for hastily blaming the epidemic on Spanish cucumbers, comments they later withdrew but only after a drop in sales.

At least two of the people infected with E.coli in Bordeaux were found to have the same strain as that discovered in Germany, which caused nearly 40 deaths.

German health authorities have linked the epidemic there to contaminated bean sprouts and shoots from a German organic farm sold to consumers and restaurants for eating in salads.

(Reporting by Claude Canellas and Avril Ormsby; Writing by James Regan)

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