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June 8, 2011

EU: Commission E. coli payment offer too low, say farmers

The European Commission's EUR150m (US$220m) compensation package for farmers hit by the E. coli scandal in Europe is too low, the EU-wide farming union Copa-Cogeca has warned.

By Dean Best

The European Commission’s EUR150m (US$220m) compensation package for farmers hit by the E. coli scandal in Europe is too low, the EU-wide farming union Copa-Cogeca has warned.

EU Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos yesterday (7 June) saw his offer rejected by member states and the farmers union also said the proposal did not go far enough.

Copa-Cogeca said the proposal would only cover “one-third” of the losses of farmers affected by the outbreak, which originated in Germany. The so-called super toxic strain of E. coli has killed 22 people, sickened thousands and hit produce sales but officials have yet to find the source of the outbreak.

Speaking in Luxembourg at a meeting of EU farm ministers, Copa vice-president Albert Jan Maat said: “EU producers and agri-cooperatives have suffered enormously by this outbreak. Losses reach up to EUR400m per week in eight member states, with some farmers and cooperatives already forced out of business. EU fruit and vegetable prices have plummeted and consumption has fallen dramatically.”

After his proposal was turned down by ministers, Ciolos said yesterday he would return with an “improved proposal”, most likely today.

The original offer would have compensated farmers at 30% of the average selling price between 2007-2010.

Ciolos said the Commission was in an “awkward situation” as it needed to take into account both the losses suffered by farmers as well as budget constraints. He said he did not think that the Commission would be able to go up to 100% compensation for all products and all producers.

The outbreak had been blamed – mistakenly – by German health authorities on Spanish cucumbers. However, sales of cucumbers have not just been hit; demand for tomatoes, lettuce and other vegetables like courgettes has also fallen.

Maat told ministers that “80% of total vegetable production” was being destroyed due to the fall in demand. He said: “Farmers and cooperatives must recover their costs for these exceptional withdrawals. Today’s proposal would recover only one third of the economic losses of a week.”

Cogeca vice president Eduardo Baamonde Noche called for the EU to promote produce to boost consumption and “restore consumer confidence”.

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