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Spain farmers give away produce in health campaign

Source: Reuters - Wed 8th Jun 2011

Spanish farmers gave away 30 tones of fruit and vegetables on Wednesday to dispel health fears they say are still hurting producers after being erroneously blamed for an E.coli outbreak in Germany.

On Tuesday the European Union offered farmers 150 million euros in aid to reimburse producers who have been unable to sell fruit and salad vegetables for nearly two weeks.

"They want to fob us off with 150 million (euros). It's shameful, it's humiliating when losses in our country are above 350 million," Miguel Lopez, general secretary of the COAG farmers' union told reporters.

Hundreds meanwhile queued up in Madrid's central Felipe II square as farmers stacked stalls with free produce including cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuces, courgettes, aubergines, water melons and peaches.

Fruit and vegetables are key components of the Mediterranean diet, which has been linked to lower rates of heart disease than those prevalent in northern Europe.

Lopez said strict traceability standards in Spain ensured the safety of its fresh fruit and vegetables, of which he said Spain was the world's biggest exporter.

"When fingers were pointed at us, we rectified. We immediately identified the farms where it was indicated there was a health problem with cucumbers," he said.

"Nonetheless, when our produce reaches the distribution platform, all traceability is lost. We have been asking the EU for better traceability for years."


German officials have yet to identify the source of a strain of E.coli bacteria which has killed 25 and made more than 2,400 people in 12 countries ill and scientists say they may find out.

Health officials in Hamburg initially said Spanish cucumbers may have been the source of outbreak, but later admitted further tests on the cucumbers showed that, while contaminated, they did not carry the strain responsible for the deaths.

Farmers say they cannot afford to buy seeds they need to plant for the summer after having had to uproot plantations and dump or compost perishable goods they have been unable to sell.

"The situation is critical," said Miguel Monferrer, who grows cucumbers and cherry tomatoes on the coast of southern Granada province.

"We can't sell at any price, we haven't sold anything for two weeks. If this doesn't improve soon, we will have to wait until the autumn until we can plant again."

Farmers groups estimate the Spanish fresh fruit and vegetable sector turns over 15 billion euros a year and earned 2 billion euros in exports to Germany alone in 2010.

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