EU sandwiched between Spain and Germany in cucumber wars

Aid worth £134m promised to farmers left impoverished by E.coli outbreak

The European Union responded to mounting fury over its handling of the devastating E.coli outbreak yesterday by proposing €150m (£134m) in aid for thousands of farmers forced to destroy their crops in a forlorn attempt to curb the epidemic.

Click HERE to view graphic (223k jpg)

The offer came during an emergency meeting of EU agriculture ministers in Luxembourg which descended into unexpected farce as the Spanish delegate took to brandishing a cucumber on the floor to underline the dire plight of his country's vegetable farmers.

Spain, outside Germany the country hardest hit economically by the crisis, is estimated to have been losing about €225m a week in lost vegetable exports since Berlin mistakenly claimed last month to have found the pathogen causing the E.coli outbreak in imported Spanish cucumbers.

The warnings brought exports of most Spanish vegetables to a standstill, caused the EU to issue its own warning and prompted Russia to ban the import of all EU vegetables. In Germany, where the government has kept its warning in place since the start of the crisis, farmers say their output has been decimated.

Waving a cucumber aloft, Francisco Sosa-Wagner, a Spanish MEP, lambasted Germany for "rushing in without due caution" to sully the reputation of his country's produce. He blamed the European Commission for providing "no co-ordination and no leadership" over the crisis and demanded a revision of the European food safety alert system.

"We have to restore the honour of the cucumber," Mr Sosa-Wagner said. "We have told Germany that it must reimburse us for the loss. If it covers 100 per cent, which is what we are demanding, the affair will be closed. Otherwise we reserve the right to take legal action," he insisted. France also demanded "100 per cent compensation" for its farmers.

Germany was also targeted by John Dalli, the EU Health Commissioner, who accused Angela Merkel's government and the health authorities of overreacting. "It's crucial that national authorities don't rush to give information on the source of the infection when it's not justified by science," he said.

His criticisms were echoed by Dacian Ciolos, the EU's Agriculture Commissioner, who urged Germany's health authorities to find the source of the E.coli epidemic as quickly as possible. "Without this answer, it will be difficult to regain the trust of consumers, which is essential for the market to regain its strength," he said.

In Germany, however, there was no sign that health investigators had come any closer to identifying the source of the aggressive mutant strain of the E.coli bacteria that has so far killed 22 people and infected more than 2,400 others. Responding to criticism that the country's federal system was too complicated to effectively deal with such an epidemic, Ilse Aigner, the Agriculture Minister, insisted: "Our crisis management system is working. The authorities are concentrating all their resources on battling the epidemic."

Health authorities in the northern state of Lower Saxony claimed on Sunday to have found a "very likely" source of the epidemic at a vegetable farm near Uelzen, south of Hamburg, which specialises in growing bean sprouts.

However, investigators announced on Monday that a first batch of 17 tests carried out on some of the farm's seeds, tables in a packing area, and its ventilation system had all proven negative. Officials have insisted that the first results are not conclusive and that a further 23 tests have still to be conducted at the farm.

The investigators have also drawn a blank on tests carried out on a package of bean sprouts from the farm which a Hamburg resident had left in his fridge since late April. Health officials had hoped that, because of its old sell-by date, they would find traces of the killer E.coli strain in the package. Yesterday they had to admit they found nothing.

Clinics and hospitals in and around Hamburg, which are bearing the brunt of the epidemic, have issued public appeals for more blood donors. Many are filled to capacity and have been obliged to farm patients out to other hospitals in the region.

Yesterday officials said the 17 hospitals treating E.coli patients in the region had additional costs of more than €100,000 each and faced the prospect of bankruptcy if the epidemic continued for much longer.

However, health officials in the port city were able to offer some reassurance yesterday and said the number of cases of infection appeared to be declining and that many of those in hospital were now recovering.

"There is a ray of hope on the horizon," one Hamburg city government minister said.

News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

    £35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

    Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

    £18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

    Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

    £35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

    Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

    £45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'