E.coli: concern grows over lack of answers, compensation package rejected

By Rory Harrington

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: European union, Germany, Spain

E.coli: concern grows over lack of answers, compensation package rejected
European Union proposals for a €150m-compensation package for farmers wer rejected by Spain and France yesterday as pressure intensified for Germany to identify the source of the E.coli outbreak that has now killed 23 and sickened 2,429.

Proposals to help Europe’s farmers were tabled at an emergency meeting of Agriculture Ministers in Luxembourg.

Consumer confidence undermined

Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos said the €150m offered was “substantial, balanced and justified compensation to help producers of cucumbers, tomato and salads, most affected by the crisis”.

The sum put forward was equivalent to about 30 per cent of the average market price for the unsold crops – said by farming bodies to now have reached €400m.

Ciolos admitted that the crisis caused by the new strain of E.coli had “undermined consumer confidence with a huge economic impact on vegetable growers​”.

However, Spain, whose growers have suffered severely after Germany mistakenly blamed cucumbers from the country as the source of the outbreak, dismissed the amount as inadequate. French minister Bruno Le Maire also rejected the planned compensation.

"No, Spain does not see €150m as sufficient,"​ said Spanish agriculture minister Rosa Aguilar, who is demanding that its producers receive compensation for between 90 and 100 per cent of lost revenue.

Answers demanded

German authorities are now under intense scrutiny to solve the mystery of the source of the E.coli 0104:H4 outbreak. The credibility of scientists is being questioned after they incorrectly blamed Spanish cucumbers. Last weekend’s statement that beansprouts from a farm south of Hamburg were the source has still to be proved with initial tests showing no trace of the new deadly form of the bug.

EU health commissioner John Dalli yesterday censured German officials for making public “premature conclusions”​ on the cause of the outbreak.

"I would like to stress it is crucial that national authorities do not rush to give information on the source of infection which is not proven by bacteriological analysis, as this spreads unjustified fears in the population all over Europe and creates problems for our food producers selling products,"​ he said.

Commissioner Ciolos added his weight, saying: “We call upon the German authorities to do everything in their power to identify the source of this contamination. This is a priority to end the health crisis and the only way to restore consumer confidence.”

On Monday, MEPs joined the growing chorus of concern when several criticised the German authorities for “a lack of communication and coordination​”, said statement from the parliament in Strasbourg.

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