By Ray Fleming

THE source of the E coli epidemic in Germany is proving difficult to locate. Yesterday afternoon the agricultural ministry in Lower Saxony State said that the suspect bean sprouts at an organic farm had been cleared after intensive testing and despite the fact that bean sprouts from the farm had been served at a restaurant whose customers had subsequently become ill. The German officials are now being cautious in the statements they make, understandably so given the lethal food poisoning they are dealing with and the unfortunate errors that were made at the start of this crisis.

The search for the source of the epidemic changes direction almost every day and it is possible, but unlikely, that Spanish products will again come under suspicion. But on the assumption that the initial naming of Spanish cucumbers was inaccurate -- and irreversible in its effect -- it is to be hoped that the German government is considering how the thousands of small farms in Almeria and other parts of Spain can be compensated for the losses they have suffered and are continuing to suffer as they have to destroy their crops. It is understandable that under pressure to identify the core of a serious epidemic someone seized prematurely on the Spanish option but proper administrative oversight should have prevented the careless way in which the initial announcement was made without thought of its consequences.