09/06/2011 "The tarnished reputation of cucumber producers"
In parallel with the meeting of Agriculture Ministers in Brussels, MEPs are today debating in plenary the E-coli bacteria outbreak. Germany and a poorly coordinated European Union have been heavily criticised. MEPs are largely in favour of compensating farmers.
Criticism from the Health Commissioner
European Health Commissioner, John Dalli, was the first to make a statement reminding Europeans that the source of contamination was still unknown. He considers it “crucial that national authorities do not rush to give information on source of infection, which is not proven.” These words carried an implicit criticism of the German approach which led to quickly blaming Spanish cucumbers for the outbreak.
Cucumbers were the first product to be blacklisted only to be later exonerated. The European Commissioner said that unproven theories only serve to “spread unjustified fears in the population all over Europe and creates problems for our food producers in selling products in the EU and outside.”
Lastly, Mr. Dalli justified the European Commission’s decision not to take measures at European level. As the outbreak is mainly limited to the Hamburg region, he feels a ban on products would be disproportionate.
Spanish MEPs to the fore
MEPs are first and foremost calling for the enquiry about the source of contamination to be faster and more rigorous. They also expressed their solidarity with the victims and their families as the total number of deaths reached 25, of which 24 were in Germany.
However, Green MEP, Rebecca Harms stated that it was obvious that “neither Berlin nor the EU were prepared for such an outbreak.” She went on to use the parliamentary debate as an opportunity to call for creation of a central European authority like that in the United States, which has significant powers of intervention.
She also criticised the lack of decision making within the EU. Conservative MEP, Françoise Grossetête agreed stating that “the problem is that the European Commission is not in a position to check whether information given by a Member State is correct.
But it was primarily the Spanish MEPs who dominated the debate. They were very critical of Germany and demanded compensation for Spanish farmers. Esther Herranz Garcia, Spanish Conservative MEP, was at the forefront of the debate demanding that Spanish farmers who were penalised by the accusations are compensated using unused EU funds.
Of all the speakers however, MEP Francisco Sosa Wagner (NI) made the biggest splash. Brandishing a cucumber, he demanded that the unfairly accused cucumber regain its honour. “I have Germany ancestry and I love Germany. But obviously in this case, German authorities acted rashly and imprudently,” he said, “We must defend the reputation of cucumber producers”.