The Shocking Reputation Irresponsibility by German Authorities on E Coli Crisis: How to Kill Innocent Cucumbers from Spain

(You can download here a pdf version of this post, with additional images analysis. In English, or check the abstract in Spanish, resumen en castellano).

Germany is suffering a major health alert due to a highly lethal epidemic produced by a new strain of e Coli bacteria. The outbreak is geographically located in the North of Germany, in Hamburg. As the number of affected people is increasing, the spread of the infected cases in new countries makes it an European crisis.

In the next table we show the distribution of E Coli officially reported cases by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. ECDC reports daily the number of cases in EU countries. Right now (5 June 2011), there are 2263 cases, with 22 deaths, in 12 countries in Europe. Germany counts with 2163 cases (95.5% of all cases) and 21 deaths. In terms of direct health crisis, this is currently a German affair.

ECDC started to report the E Coli outbreak by 25 May 2011, alerting that: “On 22 May, Germany reported a significant increase in the number of patients with haemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) and bloody diarrhoea caused by Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC). Since the end of April, 138 cases of HUS have been reported”. References to the source of the outbreak where the following one: “The source of the outbreak is under investigation, but contaminated food seems the most likely vehicle of infection. There is currently no indication that raw milk or meat is associated with the outbreak.” (ECDC Epidemiological Update 25 May 2011).

Germany accuses cucumbers from Spain

One day later, Ms Cornelia Prüfer-Storcks, Health Senator from the State-City of Hamburg alleged that cucumbers imported from Spain were the source of the epidemy.

We reproduce here a snapshot of the press release launched by the Hamburg Senate by May 25

From this statement an official heath alert was transmitted to all relevant institutions. The wording of the accusation is extremely direct: “The Hamburg Institute for Hygiene and the Environement (HU) of the Health and Consumer Protection Authority(BGV) has clearly identified a cucumber from Spain as being infected by E. Coli. Samples of two other cucumbers from Spain and another cucumber of unknown origin also tested positive for E. Coli. ‘We are now looking specifically at cucumbers as the source of the outbreak’ said Health Senator Cornelia Prüfer-Storcks” … “This success also greatly facilitates the work of health authorities” (Health Alert by Hamburg Senate).

The day after a press release by Hamburg Senate accused more specifically two exporting Spanish firms:

Hamburg Senate mentioned Press Releases can be download here (pages 17 and 19).

This declaration, in the wave of the initial stages of the increase of reported E coli cases provoked a panic against cucumbers and other vegetables produced in Spain, as well as against cucumbers from any country in Europe. Prizes plummeled, ban of importation of Spanish products emerged in several countries … and media coverage exploded.

In the other side, Federal Health autorities followed a much more prudential path. In line with Hamburg healath authorities, they found out that consumption of vegetables was linked to the infection. They launched a health alert by 25 May, “Against this backdrop RKI and BfR recommend, by way of precaution, not to consume raw tomatoes, cucumbers and green salads, more particularly in Northern Germany, until further notice … The consumption of one or more of the mentioned foods would explain a large number of the HUS cases but it cannot be excluded that other foods play a role as an infection source, too” (BfR Press release 26 May 2011). In this case, no direct mention to cucumbers from Spain was made, and no more health alerts were sent in the following days.

Five days later, by 1 June 2011, experts came to the conclusion that analyzed cucumbers from Spain were not linked at all to this lethal E Coli strain (BfR Press Release 1 June 2011)

In the daily update provided by ECDC, the European disease surveillance body, has no departed from the initial lack of specific identification of the source of the contamination. Today, the wording is as follows: “The source of the outbreak is under investigation, but contaminated food seems the most likely vehicle of infection” (ECDC Epidemiological Update 5 June 2011). No reference has been never made to cucumber or any other specific vegetable.

In sharp contrast no formal correction of the initial statements against cucumbres from Spain came from Hamburg Senate and Ms Cornelia Prüfer-Storcks. In fact, Prüfer-Storcks has inisited that even if cucumbers are cleared as source of the contagion, she acted in the correct way.

As it can be noticed, in the press release by the Hamburg Senate anouncing that cucumbers did not contain the lethal toxin, no mention at all is made to their Spanish origin.

The content of this statement was crucial for the reputation and economic interests of Spanish farmers as Hamburg Senate and its Health responsible was the origin and the epicentre of the massive media explosion.

Apparently, some other top officials from Germany ask for “comprehension” to Spain as they are undergoing a severe health crisis and the wrong accusations came inside this framework of emergency and uncertainty.

All this evolution of the events is surprising to me as scholar how Germany is tackling the cucumber crisis and its impact on reputation and media impact: we have a clear case of wrong allegations against products from a specific country, potentially having devastatings economic effects in the affected industry and no political reponsibilities emerge, and no even apology is asked for. Imagine that instead of accusing cucumbers from Spain the chosen victims were Franch cheese, or the big mac from McDonalds, Kellogg’s cereals or milk from England. In all cases, even if the accusations are false and negated few days after, the reputational and commercial damages would be colossal and mostly irreversible. This is probably what it actually happening to cucumber production in Spain and also in other countries in Europe, and vegetables exports in general from Spain.

Media impact of German accusations

This is a unduly cucumber crisis inside a true health crisis with a dramatic impact for an industry in a country completely unrelated with the source and responsible actors of the health crisis.

We want to show in this post how devastating is this false accusation against vegetables from Spain in terms of media coverage and reputational impact.

As we tackle crisis through its impact in media, we are able to measure how harmful this accusation by a German public authority has been for Spanish farmers. We want to proof whith measurable data how serious is the problem caused by false accusations by a German politician.

First element appears in the following map. We show media coverage worldwide given to each country in Europe in relation with the E Coli crisis. Data is calculated by the newspapers articles where each country is explicitly mentioned in news directly related to the Hamburg E Coli outbreak. We translate this raw information into a Media Impact Index. A country with a value 1 of the Media Impact Index means that this country appears in news about E Coli crisis in the same amount that the average of 160 countries from all over the world monitored by us.

Not surplisingly, Germany is the leading media reference, with an Index value of 46 points. It appears in the news about E Coli some 46 times more than the average of all countries. Second country most visibly associated to the outbreak is Spain, with 32 points. Spain appears in 2/3 of all news where Germany appears in relation with the E Coli crisis. This is the measure of how massive has been the media reaction and impact to the false accusations by German authorities.

Third country most present in the news worldwide is Sweden, with an Media Impac Index value of 14.6 points, less than half the presence of Spain. The Netherlands and Denmark present a similar level of media attention than Sweden.

The map results show that media attention is distributed geographically in circles around Germany the epicentre. The exceptions are Spain and Russia. Russia references are not linked to locally reported cases, but because their decision to ban the imports of all vegetables and fresh products from any country from Europe.

We show an example of how media covered the accusation against cucumbers from Spain. Later in this post we will provide more systematic information about the media impact of the wrong accusation.

This is the cover page of German tabloid Bild, by 27 May 2011, the day after Ms Cornelia Prüfer-Storcks identified Cucumbers from Spain as the source of E Coli outbreak in Germany.

The title “Todes-Keim Kommt aus Spanien!” can be translated as “Killer germ comes from Spain!”. Bild is the leading newspapers by circulation not only in Germany, but also in Europe. It takes the sixth position worldwide, with an estimated daily circulation of 3.87 million newspapers (World Association of Newspapers)

Which is the pattern followed by media to refer more or less to a specific country in relation with the E Coli outbreak?

If media coverage was relevant as a tool for understanding crisis, we should find a strong relationship between reported cases of E Coli ill people and deaths and media coverage by countries. Countries departing from the general pattern should be explained by other non health causes.

First media reference is also first country by number of E Coli cases. Germany presents a media impact index of 46 points and suffers wth more than 2100 reported cases, 95% of all cases.

Next figure shows the relation between cases and media coverage received by other 11 countries with reported cases. We find in general a positive relationship between media coverage and cases. The Netherlands and Austria receive more media attention in relation to cases, while Sweden could have more media attention according to number of cases (even if Sweden is the media reference among these 11 countries if we exclude Spain). Spain is a clearly departing observation, as there is no relation at all between media attention received and number of cases reported (just one, who visited Hamburg).

The coefficient of correlation between cases and media attention of all 11 countries is 0.21 (out of a maximum value of 1.0). If we drop the Spanish observation from the sample, the correlation jumps to 0.70. Spain is clearly an outlyer in the relation E Coli cases & media attention. Also, if we include Germany in the correlation, the coefficient is 0.78 with Spain, and 0.93 if we exclude Spain. Correlation would further increase if we include in the sample countries with no reported cases, that also count with low levels of media attention, as reflected in the map.

Media interests for Spain in the E Coli crisis does not come from the expansion of the outbreak to Spain, but because of the false allegation that products from Spain where responsible from the crisis.

The intensity of media coverage by countries

We have clearly shown that media attention to Spain in the E Coli crisis is not due to personal casualties in Spain, but due to a wrong accusation of being the responsible for the entire health crisis. We have also demonstrated that the media impact of this allegation has have massive effect, as Spain is the second country most linked to the crisis in the news, being present in two thirds of news where Germany is present.

Now we will provide some additional information about how media from different countries in the world have reproduced this false responsibility of Spanish agricultural products in E Coli health crisis.

The next series of figures show for several selected countries how much local media is covering E Coli crisis and to which extent there are direct references to Spain in news about E Coli case outbreak.

We open the analysis with the set of countries more sensitive to the issue, as they are countries counting with officially reported cases of infected people by E Coli. It can be assumed that in all these cases the mentions to Spanish products as source of their healh problems is taken extremely seriously and affect strongly consumers behaviour and views about fresh products from Spain.

According to our data, 29% of all news published by German newspapers about E Coli case mention Spain. As media attention to the issue is currently massive in Germany, this 29% represent a huge number of some 7,000 articles mentioning the cucumbers form Spain as cause of the epidemy. This number shows how powerful has been the echoes of Ms Prüfer-Storcks accusations and how vast is the dammage for Spanish economic interests. Mentions to Spain in other affected countries in Europe range from 18% (Poland) to 67% (France) of all news about E Coli.

The high ratio of mentions to Spain in French media can may be explained by the fact that France is the second market in Europe in cucumber exports, after Spain. French farmers are evidently also negatively affected by the crisis, even if they were not directly accused as country of origin. But as the cucumber is attacked, it is probable that media in France needs to insist each time that problems come from Spanish cucumbers and not from French ones, referring to Spain as many times as needed.

As anecdotical evidence of how France was suffering with the attack to cucumbers, we show the cover page of French newspaper Libération the day after it was announced that cucumbers from Spain were not responsible for the E Coli outbreak. As we will explain below, the difference in media treatment and in reputational impact is that when the cucumbers were accused as responsible, Spain appeared as visible source in the newspapers, while when the accusation is denied, media explain that cucumbers are cleared, but they do not mention in the same extent that Spanish cucumbers are cleared.

Following figure shows the impact of the cucumber accusation in other countries in Europe with no reported cases by today. Minimum level is reached in Portugal (30%), and maximum implication to Spain is reached in Turkey (80%), Ireland (61%) and Romania (59%). In all these cases, the percentages are really high. Those countries, even if they probably refer negatively to Spanish cucumbers in a less passionate way, they are also very important for Spanish commercial interests, as Europe is the main market for agricultural exports from Spain.

Final two figures of this series show the impact of the references Spain in the framework of the German E Coli crisis in non European countries. All these countries see right now the crisis as a non direct health problem in the short term.

References to Spain in US newspapers reach a share of 44% of all news about the E Coli crisis. References to Spain in Latin American countries are higher than international average, moving around the 70% ratio. Cultural linkages to Spain show that the ongoing crisis in Europe is portrayed in many American countries under the view of the problems that Spain is facing.

References to Spain are also consistently high in countries from Asia and Oceania. They range between 40% to 55%, with peaks of some 70% in Malaysia and the Philippines.

The overall picture from the last four figures show us that the accused cucumbers from Spain have been one of the main news content driver for explaining the German E Coli outbreak by local media, not only in the most directly affected countries in Europe. In fact, in countries outside Europe the references to Spain are even higher and are present in a majority of news about the health crisis. It can be argued that negative news about Spanish perishable products are not that relevant for the Spanish agriculture insdustry, as distance make them no relevant commercial partners. But in any case, the tarnished image about the quality and the security of the products from Spain will move to other Spanish products and brand country for many minds.

Spanish cucumbers as responsible in newspapers from Germany

We have shown in the first figure about the impact of the wrong allegations against Spanish products that media in Germany published some 7.000 different articles mentioning Spanish products as source of the health crisis. This is some 28% of all news abouth E Coli in Germany. In many countries the degree of presence is even higher, but it is clear that German being the epicentre of the epidemy, media coverage is massive there and many issues are covered in the news.

German newspapers play a key role in this reputation crisis affecting Spain. German public opinion was shocked by the rise of the number of affected people without understanding the origin of this crisis. Finding the source of the infection is vital for restoring public opinion serenity. If preliminary results indicate that the source of the epidemy can come from abroad instead of being produced by local vegetables, it can be expected that media privileges and provides a lot of media attention to foreign responsible food. This information offers relief and confidence concerning local agricultural products and exacerbate anger against exported food.

We show now an example of how different newspapers in Germany have used more profusely the option “cucumbers from Spain are causing our problems”.

Next table show the example of some selected newspapers. First data column shows the total number of different articles referring to E Coli crisis (labeled as EHEC in Germany). Second column shows the percentage of all articles that also mention explicitly Spain. Third column shows the percentage of all news mentioning the cucumbers as source of the crisis.

The leading German international media reference is probably Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. We have identified 57 different articles about the E Coli crisis. In 44% cases they also mention Spain, and in 56% they refer to cucumbers. Die Welt mentions Spain in 34% news, Handelsblatt in 16% cases and Der Spiegel in 51%.

We show again the example of tabloid Bild as example of how the epidemy crisis is treated by presenting the cover pages since cucmbers from Spain were accused as responsible for the infection.

We indicate with a green arrow the days were the  Coli crisis appeared as main cover news. First cover is 27 May, when Spain is directly accused (with no ambiguity). Edition by 30 May suggest that the source could come from Africa. We have marked with a circle the day after labs cleared cucumbers from Spain as source of Hamburg outbreak. In this case, no mention at all is made about Spain. Last cover page corresponds to the next formal accusation by German authorioties that the source may be soybean sprouts. This time the the suspected vegetables are locally produced in Germany, in a farm some 80 kilometers away from Hamburg. Now, the title chosen by Bild is: “Pathways to killer-bacteria. Was it contaminated sprouts?” Compare this title as question with no reference to German origin to the previous suspect: “Killer germ comes from Spain!”.

Where do the news come from?

We have provided some information about the source of the news with the figures that showed the share of news about E Coli that also mentionned Spain, by countries. We provided there the information about how many news where published in each country.

We show now the aggregate information in the following figure. As mentioned, some 25.000 different press articles referred to Spain when covering the E Coli crisis.

The distribution goeas as follows: some 33% of all worlwide news were published by German newspapers. This is the country at the origin of the health crisis and suffers 95% of all registered cases. The accusation to Spanish cucumbers came from local German authorities and as we have explained and showed, it was expected that the degree of public anxiety would be translated into a massive media coverage of the allegations again Spanish products.

Second country by number of news references is Spain, the affected coutnerpart. It has produced 21% of all news. Many of them were also accusatory, as during six days the cucumbers were presumed to be the responsible of the outbreak.

Media from countries affected directly by E Coli outbreak because they count with reported cases represent 14% of all news. Media coverage from these countries is expected to be also negative for Spanish image and interests, as public opinion share the anxiety about the causes of the outbreak.

Our results indicate that some 78% about the E coli crisis accusing Spanish products come from media based in Europe. United States and Canada published some 15% of all news and the remaining 7% comes from Latin America, Asia and Australia. This information tells us that at this stage the German E Coli outbreak is perceived as an European health alert, and not yet a global alert attecting media attention all over the world. By 8 June, only 4 cases where identified in the USA, out of 2747 registered cases.

In terms of impact for the reputation of Spanish products this European profile of the crisis is not specialy beneficial. Main negative image media coverage comes from Europe, and it is precisely European markets that buy Spanish cucumbers and all other fresh vegetables.

In the previous figure we showed world distribution of news about E Coli referring to Spain. Now we compare this information agains the world distribution of news about E Coli mentioning Germany.

The figure shows that media in Germany provide a wider relative number of news mentioning Spain in the E Coli crisis than those mentioning Germany. In Spanish media the share is similar: they write about the source of the problem, Germany, as well as the consequences for Spain. In media from countries affected by infected people, they provide more room to Germany than to Spain.

The whole picture shows how intense has been in Germany the identification of Spain as source of their health crisis. And Germany if the first market for Spanish agricultural products, with a 25% market share.

Just as term of comparison, we add a figure where we include the relative distribution by regions of all news related with the e Coli crisis, in comparison to those mentioning either Germany or Spain.

How much is 25,000 news accusing cucumbers from Spain?

We have shown in our analysis how the accusation by German authorities against cucumbers from Spain as source of the outbreak has had a huge impact inside the E Coli media coverage, as Spain is the second country most mentioned in relation with the crisis after Germany, while Spain only counted with one reported case.

Using our techniques we have identified some 25,000 different news articles referring to the Spanish cucumbers all over the world. We have shown also the share of total news about the crisis directly mentioning Spain, which ranges between 20% and 80%.

All this raises a directly related question: How harmful is this negative media campaign for Spanish farmers? How massive is really for media perceptio about Spain?

The way used by some media consulting firms is to translate the media coverage received in terms of millions of euros that an equivalent advertising campaign should cost. This figure will probably come soon.

Another alternative way that we propose to show the extent of the reputation damages is to comapre the media impact of this current crisis against the media impact of some previous events. As the mission of Media, Reputation and Intangibles center MRI Universidad de Navarra is to monitor media coverage and treatment of relevant events, we count with a number of terms of comparison. We have shown a number of these analysis in previous post of this blog.

We propose in this post to compare the magnitude of the negative media coverage caused by E Coli crisis to Spain against the positive media impact produced by recent events.

First comparison is the media impact of Spanish cucumbers against the media coverage given to the UEFA Champions league title recently won by FC Barcelona against Manchester United.

Scoording to our results, global media coverage of the E Coli cucumbers from Spain has been 60% higher than the news after the FC Barcelona victory.

We propose a visual analysis of the relative media attention given to both events by countries in Europe.

We have identified four groups of countries. First, countries were news published about the cucumbers form Spain double or more the number of articles about FC Barcelona success. They are red contour countries. Leading country in this group is Germany, with a value 3.1. Number of news about E Coli cucumbers of Spain triple news about FC Barcelona success. Second contry most sensitive is Russia, with a value 2.6: Russia banned fresh vegetable products from Russia. Austria and Bulgaria are also in this group.

The second group contains countries where media coverage about Spanish cucumbers is higher than news about the Champioons League final, but less than twice. Interestingly enough, Spain is in this group. It also includes other affected countries by the crisis or German neighbours like Sweden, Switzerland or Poland.

Thier and fourth group of countries are those that have covered more widely the UEFA Champions league final than the accusation to cucumbers from Spain. If we compare the results of this map with the one showing the countries mentioned in news about E Coli we find that they overlap with countries lowly related to E Coli. Italy, France, Britain, Portugal and Norway published at least twice the nuber of news about FC Barcelona success in comparison to mentions to actual health crisis and Spanish linkage.

Next map shows the same analysis applied to some selected countries outside Europe. We have shown that up to now the German health crisis is mainly an European oriented issues, as almost 80% of all news about e Coli outbreak come from media located in countries from Europe.

Media interest in countries from America and Asia is lower. It could also be expected that the media coverage to UEFA Champions league is lower also in many countries, as this is a football competition played solely by teams from European countries, even if they count with football players from countries outside Europe, mainly from South America and from Africa.

Lower media attention to both E Coli crisis and FC Barcelona success makes unsure the final result concerning the relative impact of each event.

Our media monitoring shows that apparently China is following E Coli crisis more profusely than the football competition. This is also for the Philippines. Other countries in group 2, providing more media attention to E Coli are United States and Canada. In all these cases local football tradition is poor and local media fllow more intensivelly other sport competitions.

In the other side, there are some countries that deserved much more media attention to FC Barcelona winning than to present German outbreak. There are some countries that published more than twice the number of news about FC Barcelona than to e Coli. This is mainly Latin America countries: Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Peru. This finding is interesting as we observed that countries from latin America where also those showing a higher ratio in the world of mentions to Spain when covering the E Coli crisis. Clearly E Coli crisis is capturing just minor media attention in these countries.

Our results indicate that in other countries like India, New Zealand and Australia the media coverage to e Coli is lower than UEFA Champions league, even if the range among countries with low football tradition.

To close the analysis about how relevant is the media coverage given to the attacks to cucumbers from Spain, we compare now media coverage to this issue against media coverage provided to other recent relevant events in Spain, in terms of media impact.

We will compare the extent given to news about cucumbers from Spain in the e Coli crisis:

versus the media coverage given to the following events related to Spain:

1. FC Barcelona UEFA Champions league title won to Manchester United (May 2011)

2. Rafa Nadal wins Roland Garros 2011 (June 2011)

3. Flamenco declared intangible heritage of Humanity

4. Golf champion Seve Ballesteros dies (May 2011)

5. Pope Benedict XVI dedicates Gaudi Sagrada Familia in Barcelona (November 2010)

6. Alberto Contdor wins Giro d’Italia 2011 (May 2011)

7. International Film Festival San Sebastián (November 2010)

8. ETA announces permanent ceasefire.

9. Movimiento 15-M emerge during Spanish local and regional elections (May 2011).

Now we show media coverage given to each single event, by relevant countries and regions. The aim of this exercice is not to analyze the media power of each event, but to show the place given to the current E Coli outbreak.

Value 100 in each table corresponds to media coverage received by the average of all events monitored, excluding the E Coli episode.

First table shows media coverage given by Spanish newspapers. Media coverage given to cucumbers in the E Coli crisis is the second event most followed by the media, right after the coverage given to Movimiento 15-M.

Second example is media views from German newspapers to Spanish related events. The conclusions emerging from the results are clear: current health crisis outpaces all previuos event in terms of media attention. Spanish cucumbers take a value 1,500. Second event most published in German newspapers is FC Barcelona success, but at a long distance, as it takes value 470. Third event most followed is the visit to German Pope Benedict XVI to Barcelona, but it takes a value of 113 points. It means that German media coverage to Spanish cucumbers are some 13 times higher than the news about the Sagrada Familia consecration.

We have at MRI Universidad de Navarra the data about the media impact of events monitoring newspapers from almost every country in the world. We present the results of another country, to be used as term of comparison with the behaviour followed by the media directly affected by the Spanish cucumber crisis (media from Spain and Germany). We have selected United States as it is a powerful market in terms of media impact, and has not been directly concerned by the E Coli crisis.

Our results show that this current crisis is the single event most widely covered by the media in the United States. It takes a value 350. Second event is the coverage of Rafa Nadal participation in Roland Garros in all stages of the competition. Third event are FC Barcelona Champions League and the coverage of Seve Ballesteros death.

This result is an indication on how harmful is the current crisis for the commercial interests of Spanish farmers oriented to exports in Europe.

The final figure shows a global result with the media coverage worldwide to each event, but excluding news from Spanish newspapers.

We find again that the recent event with the highest media impact is the accusation to Spanish cucumbers of being responsible for the German E Coli outbreak. It takes value 330. Second event is FC Barcelona success. Third event is Rafa Nadal at Roland Garros 2011. But if we consider only the media coverage of the winning game against Roger Federer it dropts to fourth place, with a value 110.

Providing comparative analysis offers a better view of the extent of the harmful impact of this present crisis in the international trust and reputation of Spanish produced vegetables. There are some media consulting firms that propose to directly translate media impact into economic impact. The idea is that media impact is the equivalent to an advertising campaing, but for free. Consulting firms monetize media exposure in equivalent euros that should be paid to newspapers to get this space. This approach is highly questionable in scientific and practical terms, as the conexion between media exposure and “free advertising campaign” or willingness to pay is far from direct.

In the framework of the present crisis, translating media impact into economic impact would reflect the cost of an advertising campaign denigrating cucumbers from Spain.

bearing in mind that we at MRI Universidad de Navarra consider that it is not correct to translate directly media impact into economic impact, we want to show nevertheless an illustration of the estimation of the economic impact of an event included in the list shown, in order to provide a comparison with the impact of the attack to Spanish cucumbers.

Kantar Media tracks media impact. It is part of Kantar Group, a market research company. They have published a report about the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Spain and Sagrada Familia in November 2010.

According to their results, they have identified some 6,000 news about the event (3,567 in newspapers, 1,269 in TV and 1,190 in TV). Kantar estimates that this media exposure is equivalent to 66.5 million euros, the amount that would be needed to spend in advertising “to promote the places visited by the Pope and obtain a similar media impact” (Kantar Media Press Release 11 November 2011).

Kantar Media says that Pope’s visit had an advertising impact of some 66 million euros. Now, if we compare media impact of both events, our data indicate that the negative reputation media impact of the E Coli crisis on Spanish cucumbers has had a global media impact (including news from Spain in both cases) thatis 3.5 times higher. If we consider only international news (excluding news from Spanish newspapers), the media impact of references to Spanish cucumbers is 6.8 times higher than references to Pope visit to Spain.

10 June 2011: End of official warning against the consumption of cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce.

As explained in the beginning of this post, German Federal authorities launched an alert by 26 May suggesting not to consume raw tomatoes, cucumbers and green salads.

By 10 June 2011, a joint statement issued by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), the German Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) and Robert Koch Institute (RKI) “recommend abstaining from eating raw sprouts”. They also “jointly conclude that the current general recommendation to abstain from eating cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce in northern parts of Germany does not need to be upheld” (Joint Press Release by German Authorities about EHEC, 10 June 2011)

This official press release officially discard cucumbers as source of the current E Coli outbreak. Other food sources are now strongly suspected to be the origin of the infection: bean sprouts.

Hamburg Senate has published also a press release announcing that alert againts cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce has been dropped. Once again, there is no mention at all to previous formal accusation by their authorities against Spanish cucumbers. No mention at all is meda to Spanish products (Hamburg Senate Press Release, 10 June 2011)

Now the German outbreak is officially linked to German cultivated sprouts. Cucumbers are completely cleared, as well as tomatoes and lettuce.

The crucial question for farmers is to which extent this severe health food crisis will be linked in public opinion minds to sprouts or to cucumbers.

Media coverage plays a major role in creating and modifying image and reputation. Up to this point, cucumbers from Spain have received a massive and global media coverage creating an extreme negative perception.

It has to be proven by the facts that this crisis will be linked by the media and the people to German sprouts instead than to Spanish cucumbers. This requires to measure German and global media coverage to bean sprouts in comparion to media coverage given to ccucumbers. It requires also to measure the media coverage given from now on to cucumbers as being not responsible of the crisis, and compare it to previous negative media exposure. It finally requires to check in the short term and in the mid term the actual degree of trust shown by German and other European consumers towards cucumbers and other vegetables from Spain. We will monitor all these issues at MRI Universidad de Navarra.

The idendification of soja srpouts as source of the outbreak opens a new reputation crisis. This will affect all sprout producers, as now the accusation is formal and apparently scienfically supported.

This new crisis will probably seirously affect the reputation of organic food, as guilty sprouts came from an organic farm. This new crisis will reopen the debate between organic food defenders and genetically modified crops advocates. Media coverage of this current crisis will play probably again a major role. This issue will probably be the subject of a future post in this post.

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