Official letter shows minister aware of M.V.Wool risks earlier than claimed

Rural affairs minister Mart Järvik (EKRE) returned from China Friday night to face a barrage of questions from the media and opposition parties regarding his hiring of an advisor.
Rural affairs minister Mart Järvik (EKRE) returned from China Friday night to face a barrage of questions from the media and opposition parties regarding his hiring of an advisor. Source: ERR

While rural affairs minister Mart Järvik (EKRE) recently said that he first heard about reports of listeria bacteria found at fish plant M.V.Wool in August, a letter from the minister to the Veterinary and Food Board (VTA) in July suggests the contrary.

As reported on ERR News, strains of listeria bacteria which directly caused the deaths of two people in Estonia, and several more Europe-wide, were traced to the plant, in Harku, near Tallinn.

ETV show Pealtnägija noted on discrepancies in the timeline Järvik gave as to his awareness of the issue; speaking on current affairs show Aktuaalne kaamera on Thursday evening, Järvik said he received information about the listeria outbreak through the ministry's information system.

"I received a letter from the system and we gave our response to the VTA in August. I'm not mistaken, I said that. I knew as it was public that there was a problem. I wrote the questions in July and the response arrived on October 8 , in which the director of the VFB brought out the whole story," said Järvik said.

However, a letter containing just under 20 questions on the matter was sent from the rural affairs minister's office to the VTA, dated Jul. 9. Due to a mistake in email recipient, this letter did not reach the VTA right away, however. The rural affairs ministry wrote a follow up on Jul. 24 asking where the responses were, after which it became clear the VTA had not received the letter. The same letter was re-sent to the correct address on Jul. 26, ERR's online news in Estonian reports. The questions included whether procedures should be launched against M.V.Wool.

Nonetheless, Järvik maintained he was unaware of the outbreak until August.

In early October, Järvik also denied having seen documents concerning responses from the VTA with a number of sample units.

"I have not seen such sample responses with five times, or 500 units as you currently claim," Järvik said, on Oct. 8.

However, the VTA responded to Järvik's July letter, including with information on samples referenced to by Järvik, on Aug. 7.

ERR's online news in Estonian got hold of the VTA letter from Aug. 7, which is here (in Estonian).

Last week, the VTA placed an injunction on M.V.Wool's production unit as well as on a company, OÜ Peetsman, following the detection of a strain of listeria, ST1247. An alleged subsequent strain, ST87, was also recently traded to M.V.Wool.

While the company's fish plant has been declared safe after a sterilizing process, the latest strain may be at large in Estonia as a whole.

M.V.Wool also announced that its expiry dates for cold-smoked and salted fish products from 30 days, to 24 days, and the company also halted production at the Harku plant to fully sterilize its facilities.

Experts recommend children, the elderly and pregnant women avoid raw fish products like salmon and trout, which they also recommend heating up before serving.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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