EU votes 210 mln euros for bacteria-hit farmers

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The European Union on Tuesday approved 210 million euros ($303 million) in emergency aid for vegetable farmers hit by the fallout from the killer E. coli bacteria outbreak, despite opposition from Spain and France.

The aid is destined to producers of cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, courgettes and sweet peppers withdrawn from the market since May 26 as a result of the outbreak in northern Germany, which to date has killed at least 37 people, including the first child, who died on Tuesday.

Under the deal, farmers will be paid a maximum 50 percent of the usual producer price in June, with a final figure confirmed on July 22 once member states confirm the volumes to be covered.

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.

"This is an important signal for fresh vegetable growers because I was very keen to show that Europe can react quickly when it needs to," said agriculture commissioner Dacian Ciolo.

"I am relieved that the source of the contamination has now been identified," he said. "I am optimistic that consumption will pick up very quickly."

Farmers were futher hit when Russia imposed a blanket ban on vegetables from the 27-nation EU bloc, a move blasted by EU officials.

Moscow agreed at a summit with the EU on Friday to lift the ban although it was not immediately clear when the announcement would come into effect.

Vegetable sprouts grown at a farm in the northern German village of Bienenbuettel were identified as the cause of the outbreak of the virulent E. coli strain EHEC-0104, which so far has affected 14 countries.

A source attending the talks said the package won 163 votes in favour with 90 against and 92 abstentions. Abstentions included the Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Austria and Romania, with voting numbers weighted according to country population.

© 2011 AFP

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