The European Union decided Tuesday to allocate €210 million ($301 million) in aid for farmers who suffered losses as a result of the recent E. coli crisis in Germany. Meeting in Brussels, representatives of the 27 member nations agreed on the figure, which was lower than what some nations had advocated, but higher than the €150 million originally suggested by the EU Commission.
EU Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos told the daily Stuttgarter Zeitung that the funds could be released as early as July, and that a larger allocation would have hindered such speedy distribution. The funds from the EU agricultural budget will provide 50 percent compensation for European producers of cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce and other vegetables who couldn't sell their produce between May 26 to June 30. Farmers who are members of producer organizations could receive up to 70 percent compensation.
Germany's Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner said on Tuesday that the aid should be distributed as quickly as possible to German vegetable producers affected by the crisis.
Shortly after the outbreak of infections from a deadly strain of E. coli, known as EHEC, began in May, German officials blamed Spanish cucumbers as the source, causing millions of euros in damages to Spanish farmers and prompting outrage from politicians there. Soon after authorities warned German consumers not to eat lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers or sprouts. Unfortunately for farmers, these warnings came at peak harvest time and many were forced to destroy their crops while they were still in the fields. Distributors and retailers were meanwhile left to dispose of produce rotting on their shelves.
On June 10, health officials in Germany lifted the warning after it was determined that bean sprouts from an organic farm in northern Germany were the likely cause of the infections. Authorities are still investigating whether or not the sprouts were contaminated already as seeds, or by workers at the farm. About 76 percent of all infections were in four northern German states, according to the Robert Koch Institute, Germany's federal institute for disease control.
New Cases 'Markedly Lower'
To date, 3,235 people have been infected with the bacteria, and 37 people, including a two-year-old boy in the north German city of Celle, have died from the infection. More than 782 people with the infection have developed HUS, hemolytic-uremic syndrome, which affects the blood, kidneys, and nervous system and can lead to kidney failure . The Robert Koch Institute reported Tuesday that the number of new HUS cases in Germany has been "markedly lower" in recent days.
German officials have been widely criticized at home and abroad for their handling of the crisis, which has opened up debate as to how to better organize reponse to public health risks in the future. A poll conducted for the German magazine Stern found that a majority of Germans were not satisfied with their government's response. Their main complaints were with how information about the infections and risks were disseminated. Some 44 percent of the respondents said there were too many warnings, while 21 percent felt that they didn't know enough.
Countries affected by the crisis have until July 22 to register with the EU the estimated amount of damages to their agricultural producers.