EU slams Russia for dragging feet on lifting food ban

15th June 2011, Comments 0 comments

The European Union executive Wednesday voiced "profound dissatisfaction" with Russia for dragging its feet on lifting a ban slapped on EU vegetables due to Germany's killer E. coli outbreak.

Calling for the ban to be lifted "immediately," the European Commission accused Moscow of reneging on a pledge made Friday at a two-day summit by Russian President Dmitry Mededev as a quarrel unfolded over commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso's promise to deliver safety guarantees.

"The commission today expressed its profound dissatisfaction that the lifting of the import ban which was agreed between presidents Medvedev and Barroso at the summit has not yet been implemented," a spokeswoman said.

"Meanwhile, the source of the E. coli contamination has been clearly identified and eliminated from the market and this further emphasizes that there is no justification" for maintaining the ban, said Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen.

The EU reacted furiously to Moscow's June 2 embargo on vegetables from the 27-member union, calling it disproportionate and scientifically unjustified.

At the Nizhny Novgorod summit, Medvedev stated willingness to lift the ban against guarantees of food safety from the EU.

Barroso for his part promised that vegetable safety certificates would wend their way to Moscow within 48 hours.

Meanwhile, German authorities had fingered vegetable sprouts grown at a farm in the northern German village of Bienenbuettel as the cause of the outbreak of the virulent E. coli strain EHEC-0104, which so far has affected 14 countries.

Though the EU certificates had been sent "we are still awaiting a reply" from Russia, said the health commissioner's spokesman Frederic Vincent.

A European source who asked not to be identified said talks between Russia and the EU on Tuesday had failed to produce an agreement on what sort of certification Russia would accept.

The Russian side was demanding guarantees that EU vegetables had been tested and were E. coli-free, while the commission was arguing in favour of a certificate stating the vegetables did not originate from north Germany.

Russia buys 1.1 million tonnes, or a quarter of the EU's annual fresh vegetable production, to the tune of 600 million euros a year.

Leading exporters to Russia are Poland, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain and Belgium.

Vegetable farmers across Europe are claiming immense damages in the fallout from the bacteria outbreak, which to date has killed at least 38 people, including its first child, who died Tuesday.

The EU on Tuesday approved 210 million euros ($303 million) in emergency aid for producers of cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, courgettes and sweet peppers withdrawn from the market since May 26 as a result of the outbreak in northern Germany.

Spain, France, Poland and Slovakia voted against the package after demanding more help for farmers producing a wider range of fresh vegetables.

Spanish farmers say they have lost 225 million euros every week since the crisis erupted.

© 2011 AFP

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