Tuesday, November 10, 2015

German Court Orders Compensation for Wrongly Accused Cucumber Grower

Written by Tyler R. Etter

A court in Hamburg, Germany, has declared that Frunet, a vegetable cooperative based in Spain, should
be compensated for losses sustained following the accusation that the coop’s cucumbers were the likely
source of the 2011 e. coli outbreak.

During the peak of the outbreak, Hamburg officials publicized their suspicions about the cucumbers
being the source of the outbreak. As a result, the coop’s sales dropped, impacting growers in amounts
up to $200 million a week. Investigations revealed that fenugreek sprouts, not cucumbers, were the
source of the deadly outbreak.

The cooperative has asked for €2.3 million in compensation, the rough equivalent of $2.54 million. The
director of the coop noted that although the prospect of reimbursement is important, the restoration of
the coop’s good name was also important. “Pointing the finger at a company can destroy it completely
in seconds...” said Richard Sopenberg, Furnet’s sales manager. He further stated that the coop has
managed to rebuild itself to the production and sales levels from before the outbreak crisis.

It is important to note that the City of Hamburg could still appeal this decision, and even in the lack of an
appeal, the amount must be set in a second litigation phase.  A comparable case in the United States
was decided in the opposite direction. Tomatoes had been named a likely source of salmonella during a
2008 outbreak, but the real source was revealed to be jalapeno and serrano peppers. The case was
decided on the basis that food safety warnings are not “regulatory taking[s]” and that there was no
obligation for the government to compensate the tomato growers.

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