BERLIN – The European Union protested Wednesday against Russia maintaining a broad ban on European-grown vegetables despite the identification of sprouts as the cause of a deadly E.coli outbreak.
German investigators last week said they had determined that vegetable sprouts from a farm in the north of the country were the source of the E. coli, and all indications are that the outbreak is tapering off.
The Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s disease control center, said only nine more people were reported sick Wednesday compared with the day before, bringing the total number since the start of the outbreak in May to 3,244.
That figure includes 784 who have developed a serious complication that can lead to kidney failure.
Thirty-seven people have died in Germany, most recently a 90-year-old reported by Hamburg authorities, and one person died in Sweden.
More than 100 people have been sickened in 13 other European countries and in the U.S. and Canada, according to the World Health Organization.
Russia initially banned all vegetable imports from Germany and Spain, then extended the ban to all vegetables from the EU on June 2 over fears of the E. coli bacteria.
The ban – and that of other countries – coupled with consumers within the EU staying away from vegetables before the source was known has meant that farmers have been losing millions of euros (dollars) each week.
Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev on Friday told European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso that he was prepared to lift its blanket ban. On Wednesday, the Commission said it is now past time for Moscow to act.
“The commission expressed its profound dissatisfaction that the lifting of the import ban which was agreed between president Medvedev and Barroso at the summit has not yet been implemented,” spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen said.
“The source of the E. coli contamination has been clearly identified and eliminated from the market and this further emphasizes that there is no justification for the Russian measures or any other restrictions.”
On Tuesday, the European Union approved a €210 million ($306 million) compensation package for fruit and vegetable farmers, to help them through a time that they say has been devastating.
“The plant does not have a ‘stop’ button where we could say ‘hold on, we’re having a bit of sales trouble and will come back in two weeks,’” said farmer Andrej Becker as he picked tomatoes in Eiche, outside Berlin.
“It does not work like this. We have to cut the tomatoes off, otherwise they burst and rot.”