Russia bans EU vegetable imports: official

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Russia on Thursday banned the import of fresh vegetables from all European Union countries because of the deadly E. coli bacteria scare, the head of the consumer protection agency said.

"The fresh vegetable import ban affecting all EU countries went into effect this morning," agency chief Gennady Onishchenko was quoted as saying by Interfax.

Vegetables already shipped in from the European Union "will be seized across Russia", he added.

Enterohaemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) can result in full-blown haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS), a disease that causes bloody diarrhoea, serious liver damage and which can result in death.

The toll from the outbreak rose to 17 on Wednesday, with all but one of the fatalities occurring in Germany. Hundreds more have fallen sick.

German officials have been unable to find the cause of the outbreak after initially blaming it on organic cucumbers imported from Spain.

Russia on Monday banned fresh vegetable shipments from Spain and Germany, warning the sanction could soon be applied to all EU countries if it failed to receive a proper explanation as to how the fatal disease was being spread.

Russia has been quick in the past to ban the import of products that are also produced locally.

While this has ostensibly been on health grounds, some critics have accused the authorities using this as a pretext to unfairly back Russian producers.

Onishchenko said orders to stop all incoming European vegetable shipments had already been issued to Russian customs authorities.

© 2011 AFP

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