UK firm's seeds tested over E.coli
The Food Standards Agency is investigating seeds from a British company that have been linked to an E.coli outbreak in France.
The sale of three types of seeds from Thompson & Morgan - of Ipswich in Suffolk - has been halted over the Channel after the outbreak caused the hospitalisation of eight people.
French health officials said test results on two of the eight people showed an infection of the same strain of E.coli that recently killed 44 people - all but one in Germany - and affected another 3,700 including Britons who had been in Germany.
Commerce Minister Frederic Lefevre said the order involves fenugreek, mustard and arugula seeds linked to Thompson & Morgan. The investigation found two of the eight people hospitalised had consumed sprouts from the three seeds at a school fair in the south-western town of Begles.
Thompson & Morgan said in statement it was co-operating fully with the investigation but said it was an "unsubstantiated link" between the outbreak and the consumption of sprouting seeds.
"In particular, we note the confirmation by French Secretary of State for Consumer Affairs, Frederic Lefebvre that no link between the E.coli symptoms and the eating of sprouting seeds has been established."
The firm said it has sold many hundreds of thousands of packets of seeds throughout the UK and Europe including more than 100,000 packets in France from more than 500 outlets.
"To date, there have been no reported incidents of any problems either in France, the UK or anywhere else they are sold," it stressed. We note that the French outbreak seems to be localised to a specific event, which would indicate to us that something local in the Bordeaux area, or the way the product has been handled and grown, is responsible for the incident rather than our seeds."
Samples of the seeds have been provided by the firm to the UK investigation so they can be tested and the results are expected within a few days.
The Food Standards Agency FSA said in a statement: "No cases of food poisoning have been reported in the UK linked with the outbreak in France but we are in close contact with the Health Protection Agency. We have asked for further information from the French authorities with regard to the three named type of seeds to help us carry out investigations in the UK."