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Naming Names in EU E. coli Outbreak: Fair Game?

The investigation into the European E. coli crisis linked to sprouts has been closing in on Egyptian fenugreek seeds. But the name of a possible importer of those seeds mysteriously disappeared from an official report on the outbreak Wednesday -- 9 hours after it was published.

The original document, released by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), named agaSAAT GmbH of Dusseldorf, Germany as the company that apparently supplied a 2009 lot of seeds to a British firm, that in turn sold them in France where they are linked to a cluster of E. coli O104:H4 infections. The report also said a 2010 lot of the company's seeds was suspect in the larger outbreak in Germany.

"The tracing back is progressing and has thus far shown that fenugreek seeds imported from Egypt either in 2009 and/or 2010 by the company agaSAAT GmbH are implicated in both outbreaks," it read.

Later that day, however, the name of the company had been removed from that sentences and two others.

CIDRAP, the University of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy news service, which was the first to report the news Wednesday, asked yesterday why the information had been removed. ECDC responded, "Some key partners involved felt that it may unnecessarily harm the company to publish its name while the investigations are still ongoing. So it was thought more appropriate to remove the name of the company from the final report."

Blame for the devastating European E. coli outbreak has been soaring around like a heat-seeking missile -- financially crippling the producers it incriminates. In Spain, vegetable producers lost approximately 200 million euros per week in sales after contaminated Spanish cucumbers were identified incorrectly as the outbreak vehicle, and health officials continued to warn consumers to avoid lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers.

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