If it worked in Germany . . .


An email from a reader alerted me to this story from The Telegraph about Germany’s radical answer to its unemployment problem:

. . . There is special focus on “mini-jobs”, contracts that allow a worker to earn 400 euros a month tax-free on the condition that they can be sacked at any moment. Germans can have as many such jobs as they like, but only one with the same employer. The official figures show that, within a year of their introduction, there were 500,000 more part-time jobs, with a good record of leading to full-time employment. Youth unemployment was indeed halved. None of this was pain-free – protesters lined the streets, complaining about deregulation and denouncing “devil jobs”. It was, for Schröder, a battle worth fighting and winning. . .

Could we be as brave as Germany?

There would be a battle, but if it worked as it did there, it would be one worth fighting and winning here.

Bean sprouts E coli cuplprit


Bean sprouts from an organic farm in Saxony were the E coli culprit responsible for severe illness and deaths in Germany:

Reinhard Burger, the president of the Robert Koch Institute, which is responsible for disease control and prevention in Germany, said there was enough evidence to draw the conclusion even though no sprouts from an organic farm in Lower Saxony had tested positive for the E coli strain.

“It was possible to narrow down epidemiologically the cause of the outbreak of the illness to the consumption of sprouts,” Burger said at a news conference. “It is the sprouts.”

The sprouts were initially blamed for the outbreak on Sunday, but authorities backpedalled the following day after negative laboratory tests.

The breakthrough in the investigation came when a taskforce linked patients who had fallen ill to 26 restaurants and cafeterias that had received produce from the organic farm.

That the farm was organic isn’t necessarily relevant.

Officials said it was possible that other nearby farms could be affected because it had not yet been established whether the seeds or the farm’s water had been contaminated.

Finding the source of the infection has cleared other producers and products but it is not the end of the saga.

Twenty nine people have died, many more became seriously ill, some still are.

The outbreak has also had a severe economic impact as crops were dumped and consumers spurned fresh produce.

It is a reminder that in New Zealand where we rely so heavily on our reputation for safe food we can not be too careful at all stages from producer to consumer.


How clean is your cucumber?


Travellers in third world countries are warned about not eating raw fruit or vegetables unless they’ve peeled them but few are concerned in countries with better standards of hygiene.

I’ve had giardia which has made me a bit paranoid about what I eat when away from home but I’d never have worried about salads in Germany.

However, that was before the news of illness and deaths there as a result of  haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS) and enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC):

The number of patients in Germany presenting with HUS and bloody diarrhoea caused by STEC is 470, which is 97 more than the day before, and 1064 of EHEC, which is an increase of 268. Overall in Europe, 499 cases of HUS and 1115 cases of EHEC have been reported, 1614 in total.

Cases have now also been notified from: Austria (HUS 0, EHEC 2), Denmark (7, 7), France, (0, 6), Netherlands (4, 4), Norway, (0, 1), Spain, (1, 0), Sweden (15, 28) and Switzerland (0, 2) and the United Kingdom. (2, 1) All these cases except two are in people who had recently visited northern Germany or in one case, had contact with a visitor from northern Germany.

The BBC reports 16 people have died of the disease and the cause hasn’t been ascertained.

It was originally blamed on Spanish cucumbers at considerable cost:

Spain’s fruit and vegetable exporters estimate they have been losing more than 200m euros ($290m; £174m) since the outbreak emerged.

Germany has admitted the bacteria did not come from Spain as initially reported, but said the decision to issue the warning had been correct as a different strain of E.coli was present in Spanish cucumbers.

The speed and extent of the impact on Spanish producers is horrifying and reinforces the need for vigilance with food production and processing here for both health and financial reasons.

Siouxsie Wiles gives a scientist’s perspective on the outbreak:

Recently, researchers have shown how plants become contaminated with EHEC, and it makes scary reading. Most people would think that as long as they gave their vegetables a decent rinse before putting them in their salad, then all would be well. If only it were that simple. It turns out that the bacteria aren’t just hanging around on the surface of the plant. Shaw and colleagues (1) showed that EHEC attach to the very cells that open and close the pores plants use for gas exchange. From here, the bacteria can then get inside of the plant cell, where no amount of rinsing can reach them.

It’s not easy to get your five plus servings of fresh fruit and vegetables when you’re travelling at the best of times, but I’d rather risk a little vitamin and fibre deprivation than a stomach bug like this.

España 1 Alemania 0


The more I see of football the less I understand.

Having just watched the last few minutes of the World Cup  semi-final between Spain and Germany I’ve come up with another questions: why do the Spanish wear blue shorts when their colours are red and yellow?

Better standing on our own feet


New Zealand farmers’ anger at the USA’s decision to subsidise its dairy exports is well founded.

Federated Farmers dairy section vice-chair John Bluett says:

“It’s a serious concern. The US is going to subsidise 92,000 tonnes of export product. In perspective, New Zealand only produces 105,000 tonnes, so it’s the equivalent of almost subsidising all New Zealand’s production.”

In the Waikato alone it could cost farmers $180 million and it is likely to mean a lower payout next season.

There may be a small benefit to consumers if the subsidies result in lower international commodity prices because that could flow through to lower retail prices here. But any gain will be more than cancelled out by the pain imposed on the wider economy.

However, angry as farmers are, none are calling for a return to subsidies. Hard as it is in the real world at the mercy of markets, it beats the days which Rob describes when farmers’ incomes went up and down at the whim of the government.

There’s another reminder of how bad that is at Phil Clarkes’ Business Blog:

In France, for example, some 81 dairies have been blockaded and dairy farmers have threatened a national “milk strike” if an ongoing “mediation process” fails to deliver a meaningful lift in prices.

In Germany, meanwhile, six women have gone on hunger strike, while around 6000 dairy farmers took to the streets of Berlin to demand a national milk summit.

And this week the protest headed to Brussels, with a claimed 2000 farmers from 10 member states clashing with riot police outside the EU Council building, while farm ministers discussed the market situation.

Taking what the market offers isn’t always easy, but standing on our own feet beats going cap in hands to governments as they do in Europe to find out not only what they’ll earn but also how much they can produce.

Hat Tip: QuoteUnquote

Atrocities from all sides


Construction workers in Poland have uncovered a mass grave  believed to be of 1800 German civilians who disappeared during the Soviet Army’s march to Berlin.

That reminded me of a story my father told. He served in the 20th battalion in Egypt and was part of a group who took some German POWs. They were handed over to Polish troops and never seen again.

Manager binned for black boxers


When the officials who monitor the rules  sin-bin a manager over the colour of competitors’ underwear I think we can say that the Olympics have got a little too officious. 

Olympic officials got their knickers in a twist over the Black Sticks’ undies, and suspended their manager for yesterday’s vital hockey match against Germany.

Kevin Marr watched from the grandstand after Bradley Shaw, Simon Child and Blair Hopping wore visible black short-style undies under their white shorts in the 2-2 draw with China.

Under the rules, shorts and undies must match, but New Zealand were in their alternate white strip against China, and the players did not own alternate white undies.

Initially officials wanted to suspend the players involved.

When Marr said that was unfair since he was in charge of what the players wore, he was suspended instead, which prevented him sitting in the team dugout.

“They’re pretty pedantic rulings,” Marr told NZPA.

Let’s give him a gold for understatement.

But it was worse for the Germans who couldn’t find red knickers when they changed from their number one black strip for their match against the Black Sticks.

German manager Jochen Heimpel contacted Marr yesterday to say the indiscretion had been noticed and his players had been threatened with suspension from their semifinal.

Germany were likely cop it worse than New Zealand, as a warning to all sides was issued after the black undies put in their appearance.

Marr expected Heimpel to cop a two-match suspension.

And the gold for pedantry goes to…

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