EU to offer 150 min euros to E.coli-hit far

By Charlie Dunmore

LUXEMBOURG (Reuters) – A European Union proposal to offer 150 million euros in compensation to farmers affected by an E.coli outbreak is insufficient and producers should be fully compensated, Spain’s farm minister said Tuesday.

Spanish fruit and vegetable producers have been hardest hit by the collapse in sales during the crisis, after German officials initially blamed cucumbers from Spain for causing the outbreak that has so far killed 23 people.

“No, it’s not enough for Spain,” said the country’s farm minister Rosa Aguilar, when asked about the European Commission’s initial compensation offer of 150 million euros.

“What we will propose is that there should be a response to all producers … for 100 percent of the real market value of the losses,” Aguilar said at a meeting of EU agriculture ministers in Luxembourg.

EU farm commissioner Dacian Ciolos earlier said the money would go to growers of fresh vegetables such as tomatoes, lettuces, cucumbers and courgettes who have been affected since the disease outbreak at the beginning of last month.

“I’ll start our proposition at 150 million euros,” Ciolos told reporters, though EU officials said the figure was just a starting point for discussions, and the total cost would depend on how long the crisis lasts.

The Commission proposal would see producers receive up to 30 percent of the total value of products they withdraw from the market, said EU agriculture spokesman Roger Waite.

But ministers could decide to increase the percentage — and the total sum available — before the plan is put to a formal vote by EU member states in Brussels next Tuesday, Waite said.

Once approved, EU financial aid could be released to farmers by the end of June, he added.

GERMANY’S ROLE

Spain has estimated its own losses at 200 million euros per week since Germany blamed its produce for the outbreak. The source of the infection has not yet been identified.

Germany’s farm minister defended her country’s handling of the crisis, and said it had a duty to report test results which showed the Spanish cucumbers were infected with Shiga toxin-producing E.coli (STEC), but which further tests showed was not the strain responsible for the deaths.

“There was (STEC) on the cucumbers, but not the strain; there were the findings about (STEC), thus they had to be notified, these are the European rules,” said Germany’s Ilse Aigner.

EU fresh produce association Freshfel Europe said the latest estimates put the weekly economic damage at about 80 million euros in the Netherlands, 20 million Germany, 4 million in Belgium, 3 million in Portugal, along with 200 million in Spain.

(Additional reporting by Julien Toyer and Ilona Wissenbach; Editing by Rex Merrifield and Ralph Boulton)

(This article was corrected in the second paragraph to change the mumber of deaths to 23, and fix the spelling of the Spanish farm minister’s name)