Spain wants compensation, slams Germany in cucumber crisis

31st May 2011, Comments 0 comments

Spain and The Netherlands demanded compensation for European vegetable producers hit by a deadly bacteria outbreak as Madrid Tuesday slammed Germany's handling of the crisis.

The situation is "extremely serious" for the agriculture sector, Spanish Agricultural Minister Rosa Aguilar said on her arrival at an informal meeting of EU agricultural ministers in Debrecen, eastern Hungary.

She estimated the loss to vegetable sales in Spain to reach "more than 200 million euros a week."

Sales from Spain have come to a virtual halt after it was accused of being the source of at least some of the contaminated cucumbers said to have killed at least 16 people.

"We need a European solution to a European problem," the minister said.

"Today, we have to present the issue as a common problem and have to ask for a compensation not only for Spanish producers but for all the European producers concerned by the situation," she added.

The Netherlands, which has seen vegetable exports to Germany almost cease in the wake of the deadly outbreak, said late Monday it would ask for EU help for its vegetable growers.

"We are disappointed by the way Germany handles the situation," Aguilar said.

She cited in particular "very unfortunate" declarations by German public health authorities "which pointed at Spanish cucumbers and Spain as the origin of this infection without having reliable data".

In Germany, authorities appeared to backtrack, voicing doubt over whether Spanish cucumbers were in fact the source of the E. coli bacteria, which has also left hundreds of people ill.

Europe's agriculture commissioner Dacian Ciolos, also at the Hungary meeting, was more diplomatic.

"It is important to deal with the consumer protection issues but at the same time not to accuse certain member states or the vegetable producers, the majority of whom respect the law and who might pay a huge, even fatal price for the mistake," he said.

"I understand very well the national authorities in the EU or elsewhere and their fear concerning the protection of consumers and that they take measures for this goal. But we have to take these measures proportionately."

He added he was prepared to consider "all courses of action to aid producers" but noted his scope was limited.

Still he insisted: "To re-establish consumers' confidence is essential." Several European states have blocked vegetable imports since the start of the outbreak.

Endre Kardevan, state secretary at the agriculture ministry of Hungary, which currently presides over the European Union, meanwhile encouraged Hungarians to "buy Hungarian products".

Germany's Robert Kloos, secretary of state in the ministry of agriculture, acknowledged that: "The drop in sales affect all the vegetable producers in Europe."

The country's agricultural minister, Ilse Aigner, had opted to stay behind in Berlin to manage the crisis.

The highly virulent strain of the enterohaemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) bacteria can result in bloody diarrhoea and serious liver damage and which can result in death.

© 2011 AFP

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