E. coli outbreak: EU proposes 150m euros to aid farmers

The European Commission has proposed giving at least 150m euro (£134m; $220m) in compensation to farmers hit by the deadly E. coli outbreak.

EU agriculture ministers have been holding crisis talks, amid criticism of Germany's handling of the outbreak.

But Germany's health minister has said the worst could now be over.

Producers of salad vegetables have seen sales plummet during the outbreak, which has killed 24 people and sickened nearly 2,400.

Germany's Health Minister Daniel Bahr said there was cause for optimism, saying there were "some arguments suggesting the worst is behind us".

There has been growing criticism of the way the outbreak has been handled, with MEPs accusing the German authorities of a lack of communication and co-operation.
'Be realistic'

Speaking after the talks in Luxembourg, EU farm commissioner Dacian Ciolos said the proposal of 150m compensation could be increased substantially if necessary.

The final amount could be announced by Wednesday, he said, and would depend on how many producers were shown to be entitled to money.Spain has been demanding 100% compensation from Germany for the huge losses suffered by its farmers because of the false accusation that the outbreak began in Spanish cucumbers.

Spain's fruit and vegetables exporters association has estimated losses at 225m euros (£200m) a week.

France and Spain have both said the proposal is insufficient, but EU health chief John Dalli said countries had to be realistic about what they might receive.

He also called on Russia to lift its ban on importing European vegetables, calling it "disproportionate".

All the deaths from the outbreak, bar one in Sweden, have been in Germany. Twelve countries have been affected, with the cases outside Germany linked to travel there.

The latest focus for the source has been on bean sprouts from a German organic farm in Uelzen, 100km (62 miles) south of Hamburg. However, of 40 samples examined from the farm, the first 23 tested negative.

Officials say the results of the final 17 tests will not be known until Wednesday at the earliest because of the complicated nature of the testing process.

Further samples were also collected for testing on Tuesday.

Mr Ciolos earlier said it was important for the authorities to find the source of the infection as quickly as possible to regain consumers' trust and boost the market.

Mr Dalli told the European Parliament the outbreak was limited to a small area around Hamburg, so European-wide action and measures against any specific product were not necessary.Detailing how the crisis unfolded, he said that originally pinpointing cucumbers from Spain as the source had been wrong.

He said: "It's crucial that national authorities don't rush to give information on the source of infection when it's not justified by the science.

"That creates fears and problems for our food producers. We must be careful not to make premature conclusions."
Mounting criticism

Spanish delegate Francisco Sosa-Wagner later held up a cucumber during his speech to parliament, saying: "We need to restore the honour of the cucumber."Dr Guenael Rodier, director of communicable diseases expert at WHO, said that if the origin of the infection was not identified soon it could never be found.

He told the Associated Press news agency the German investigation had been "erratic" but that solving such an outbreak was "not an impossible task".

On Monday, Germany's Lower Saxony agriculture ministry said investigations were continuing, as it announced that the first tests from the farm in Uelzen had proved negative.

It added that it did not expect "any short-term conclusions", and that, given the complex testing procedure, the remaining 17 samples might not be returned for a few more days
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