Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Killer cucumbers

One of my colleagues tells me that cucumber sandwiches are being left on the shelves at the shop where he buys his lunch. It's bad news for royal garden parties and I don't suppose there are many customers for beansprouts either. And yet we still don't actually know the source of the E coli bug that has infected over 2,400 people, caused serious kidney-related complications in hundreds and killed 24, mainly in Germany. The economic consequences for vegetable growers across Europe are also very serious. In communications terms the whole episode has been a disaster. Could the German authorities have handled it differently? I have a lot of sympathy for them and I wouldn't have been volunteering to do their media handling. In a situation of such uncertainty, when leads can only be followed up and verified by careful research and meticulous microbiological tests, can the authorities hope to keep the 24 hour media monster fed? Or are journalists bound to chase after red herrings? Maybe everyone has some lessons to learn: consumers need to have more information about the complexities of the modern food chain to help them make choices and there need to be clearer responsibilities along that chain. It would also help if the media had a better understanding of uncertainty, and we all stopped demanding instant answers. In the meantime, I'm still eating cucumber, but I wash it thoroughly and make my own sandwiches.

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