jump to navigation

The E. Coli Outbreak and Internationalism June 12, 2011

Posted by Afflatus in Politics, World Affairs.
Tags: , ,
add a comment

The outbreak of a rare, toxic strand of E. Coli in Europe is fascinating because it is a perfect demonstration of our interconnected world and because it has serious implications for multilateralism. The first article I read on the issue was this New York Times piece on May 29, 2011. While the source is northern Germany, the article states that there were cases identified in Britain, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Sweden because citizens from those countries had visited northern Germany recently. As a result, Austria and the Czech Republic halted imports of Germany vegetables. But the network of interconnection doesn’t stop there; according to the Czechs, shipments of the suspect vegetables also went to Hungary and Luxembourg. But there’s still more global-mania! The Germans blamed two Spanish farms in Málaga and Almería. Spain denied those accusations and continued to export vegetables from those farms while commencing an analysis of their soil, water, and produce.

Since May 29, Russia has banned all imports from Europe, US citizens have been hospitalized, European farmers are going broke, and the source of the outbreak has been confirmed as bean sprouts in northern Germany. To date, 31 people have died from the virus and the number of reported cases has risen to 2,988, with over 750 of those affected by a serious complication that can cause kidney failure. When people talk about global issues that span national borders, this is what they are talking about. This outbreak makes a perfect case for stronger and more effective international institutions. Nations must share information, combine resources, and work together to meet challenges which span national boundaries.

The irony of course is that Europe already has the most integrated and sophisticated regional institutions in the world. And how have those institutions fared during this crisis? Most obviously, EU institutions failed to prevent the outbreak from spreading, admittedly a quite difficult task. More frequent inspections, and faster, more robust data sharing among European regulators would help mitigate the diffusion of the next public health threat. The most significant reactionary measure taken so far has been an aid package to compensate farmers suffering from the dramatic drop in demand for their products. On Tuesday, June 7, EU Agricultural Commisioner, Dacian Ciolos (a Romanian nominated by the Spanish European Comission President, José Manuel Barros), made a proposal whereby affected farmers would receive 30% of the market price of unsold crops, up to a total of €150m ($215m). This was immediately rejected as woefully insufficient by Spain, France and Italy. The following day, Ciolos unveiled a more generous scheme which would see all affected producers get 50% of market price, costing €210m ($301m) until the end of June. In addition, the estimated one-third of farmers who are members of national producer organizations will get another 20%, funded 50/50 by the EU and the organizations of which they are members. This plan is expected to be ratified at a meeting of European Union officials next Tuesday. So now taxpayers in Greece, Finland, and Germany will effectively be compensating farmers in Spain, France, and Italy!

Stating that the world is interconnected has almost become hackneyed, but seeing the effects of globalization and EU institutions at work is still fascinating.