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Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, Spain's deputy prime minister, told popular Spanish radio station Cadena Ser: "We do not rule out taking action against authorities which have cast doubt on the quality of our produce, so action may be taken against the authorities, in this case Hamburg."
Juan Corbalán García, the Brussels delegate of Spain's Agri-Food Co-operatives, echoed the request, claiming that €200 million each week was being lost by the fruit and vegetable sector, which accounts for 40% of Spanish agriculture.
European Commission officials confirmed that at an informal EU meeting of agricultural ministers held in Debrecen, Hungary, on Tuesday (31 May) ministers from the Netherlands, Greece and Ireland had also indicated that their farmers had been suffering lost vegetable sales since the outbreak surfaced.
Dutch Minister Henk Bleker told the meeting that the country had seen its trade in salad vegetables to Germany – worth €10 million each week – plummet. He also requested financial assistance for farmers from the EU executive.
Commission mulls special measures
European Commission officials said they were examining how special measures might be taken to compensate farmers.
Existing options include activating rules applicable to farmers belonging to producer organisations, which allow for equal compensation payments to be paid by the Commission and the groups.
Other options include countries offering the sector state aid: either within legal limits, or – subject to Commission clearance – greater sums.
Such clearance may take weeks to obtain, however, and sources within the EU executive confirmed that the quickest solution would be for member states to agree for extraordinary state aid to be granted by unanimity by member states in the Council. This would, however, be subject to the ability of member states to make payments.
Outbreak continues, source unknown
Meanwhile, the number of people in Germany affected by the outbreak of the E-coli bacteria is growing, officials have said, with 365 new cases reported on Wednesday, a quarter of whom are suffering from the more serious hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS), which affects the blood and kidneys (see 'Background').
In Sweden, 41 people have the E.coli infection, of whom 15 have developed HUS. Denmark has six HUS cases, the Netherlands three and the UK two. A few infections have also been recorded in Austria, Spain, Switzerland and the US.
Scientists continue to test samples of vegetables in an attempt to identify the source.