Food Law News - EU - 2011

Council Press Release, 19 July 2011

FOOD SAFETY - Follow-up to the E. coli outbreak: Discussions at the Agriculture Council meeting

The following is an extract from the minutes of the Agriculture Council meeting held on 19 July 2011

At the request of the Belgian, Spanish and Dutch delegations, ministers followed-up on the extraordinary Council of 7 June 2011on the EU food safety and market implications of the recent Escherichia coli (E.coli) outbreak in northern Germany and the item on the same subject on the agenda for the last agriculture Council of 28 June 2011.

Several member states expressed satisfaction at the Commission's speedy reaction to the crisis and underlined that the priority was now to restore consumer confidence. However, they regretted that the rapid intervention to compensate the vegetable producers affected by the outbreak did not take into account specific situations, such as where producers had had to sell their produce at very low prices. Other delegations stressed 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. Some member states would like an assessment of the way the rapid alert system managed the crisis.

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. In addition, the German outbreak has been linked to another E. coli outbreak which occurred in France some days after. It seems that in both cases, the origin of the contamination of the seeds was traced back to Egypt. The Commission would send an inspection team to the country.

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 insisted that member states should have the necessary controls in place to cover the demands for compensations, in order to guarantee the proper use of the financial resources. National requests for compensation from the members states were currently being assessed. A first overview of the complete situation was expected in the days to come.

The Commission noted also that in many cases, vegetable prices had recovered and were now at the same level they were in the same period the previous year. As regards the implications of the crisis for international trade, Russia's ban on EU exports of vegetables and fruit has caused major economic losses to farmers and traders. The Commission informed the Council that it had come to an agreement with the Russian authorities, which would accept certification of the food safety of the products. The Russian ban has now been lifted for the member states who so requested. This certification is a temporary measure.

Finally, the Commission has raised the budget for the promotion of these products and announced its intention to initiate a large-scale promotion campaign in the autumn. In the meanwhile, a publicity and communication campaign would start soon in the media.

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