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Countries argue over E.coli payouts

A dispute has erupted over compensation payments to European farmers hit by tumbling sales during the deadly E. coli outbreak.

Spain and France scoffed at the amount proposed by EU farm chief Dacian Ciolos who suggested the figure should be 150 million euros (£134 million) - about 30% of the value of vegetables that cannot be sold.

Farmers outside northern Germany, where the outbreak began, have been livid that prices for their crops have plummeted after being wrongly blamed by German health officials for the deaths of 24 people and the poisoning of another 2,400.

Across Europe, people are shunning vegetables, especially cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce and beansprouts, and farmers are being forced to leave ripe produce in the fields to rot.

"We propose 150 million euros. We will obviously see what we get," Mr Ciolos said Tuesday at an EU farm ministers meeting in Luxembourg.

Spain and France, traditional vegetable producers, insisted it would not be even close to enough.

"No, Spain does not see it as sufficient," Spanish Agriculture Minister Rosa Aguilar said, a stance backed by French Farm Minister Bruno Le Maire.

Ms Aguilar said Spain and several other countries proposed listing the products affected by the crisis and giving those farmers between 90% and 100% of the market price for their produce.

The losses have been staggering - around 417 million euros (£372 million) a week. About 35% of the entire EU budget already goes to farmers in the form of subsidies and compensation payments.

EU health chief John Dalli, meanwhile, warned Germany against any more premature - and inaccurate - conclusions about the source of the contaminated food, telling the EU parliament in Strasbourg that information from health officials must be scientifically sound and foolproof before it becomes public.

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