Food Law News - EU - 2011

Council Press Release, 28 June 2011

FOOD SAFETY - Follow-up to the E. coli outbreak – Discussions at the Agriculture Council of Ministers

The following is an extract from the minutes of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council meeting on 28 June 2011

Ministers followed-up on the extraordinary Council of 7 June 2011on the Escherichia coli (E.coli) outbreak.

The Council deplored the high level of fatalities resulting from the E. coli outbreak. Many delegations praised the Commission for its rapid intervention to compensate the vegetable producers affected by the outbreak (see below). They regretted that specific situations, such as where producers had had to sell their production at a very low price, had not been taken into account in the measure. Several delegations insisted that lessons should be drawn from the current crisis and that the future proposals on the reform of the CAP should take this into account. Concerning the rapid alert system some member states noted that communication and coordination should be improved, in order to avoid such a catastrophic impact on the market. The majority of member states requested a rapid EU promotion campaign to help restore consumer confidence in the fruit and vegetables sector. Finally, most of the exporting countries affected supported the Commission in its efforts to reach full implementation of the agreement with Russia to remove its ban on fresh fruit and vegetables.

During the extraordinary agriculture Council convened by the Presidency on 7 June 2011 ministers debated the EU food safety and market implications of the recent outbreak of E. coli in northern Germany.

At that meeting the Commission confirmed that all existing EU mechanisms for information sharing and response coordination on food safety and human health were triggered as soon as the first cases were reported on 22 May. However, considering the high level of fatalities, and problems in the dissemination of information submitted by member states through these systems, the Commission announced its intention to review the system in the light of the current crisis and improve these information mechanisms if necessary.

Some days after this extraordinary meeting, the source of the E. coli outbreak was identified by the German authorities, as bean sprouts originating from a farm in the north of the country. The warning about other fresh vegetables was lifted. The Commission has raised the budget for the promotion of these products and announced its intention to initiate a large-scale information campaign as soon as possible.

As regards the impact of the outbreak on the market, the Commission allocated an emergency overall budget envelope of € 210 million to partially compensate producers of cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, courgettes and sweet peppers in the EU.

The Commission has announced its intentions to assess the national demands for compensation from the member states in the days to come and have a first overview of the complete situation at the end of July 2011. In addition it noted also that vegetable prices were partially recovering from the low levels they reached during the crisis.

Finally, concerning the implications of the crisis for international trade, Russia's ban on EU exports of vegetables and fruit which caused major economic losses to farmers and traders, was rejected by EU members as scientifically unjustified and disproportionate.

Since the extraordinary meeting, the Commission informed Council that it had come to an agreement with the Russian authorities, which would accept a certification of the food safety of the products. The Russian ban has now been lifted for some exporting member states.

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