5:36pm

Thu June 2, 2011
The Two-Way

E. Coli Outbreak Sparks Political Tension In Europe

The E. Coli outbreak that has killed 17 people across Europe is also causing political tension. Today, Russia announced that it has banned imports of fresh vegetables from the European Union.

NPR's Philip Reeves reports that the European Union came out in protest just as quickly.

"We don't think that's the right move," said Frédéric Vincent, health spokesman for the European Commission. "We think this is disproportionate and we have a safety system in the E.U., which is working. We do have a health situation at the moment in Germany, but we're dealing with it."

The outbreak of a rare strain of E. Coli started in Germany and has spread across Europe. The Germans first blamed cucumbers from Spain for the outbreak but, just as quickly, backed away from the assertion saying the bacteria is likely linked to salad vegetables.

Philip reports that the frustration is being felt in food stands in Madrid, where no one will buy cucumbers and in Valencia, where, in protest, farmers dumped a pile of fruit and vegetables in front of the German consulate:

Reuters reports that European vegetable ban comes just a week before Russia was to meet with European leaders to talk about its protectionist trade measures. Russia is looking to join the World Trade Organization.

The E. coli outbreak, however, has given the Russian government ample opportunity to take shots at Europe.

"The kind of things that have been happening in the EU for a whole month do not even happen in African countries," Gennady Onishchenko, head of the Russian consumer protection agency Rospotrebnadzor, told Reuters. "I would call the action of the EU health regulators and the other European bodies responsible for this disgrace unprofessional and irresponsible."

RIA Novosti reports that Russia's Foreign Ministry Spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said the country would give the European Commission "a full explanation" of its ban. But Lukashevich defended the ban:

"Of course, nobody wants to get sick, and...this is a natural protective measure," Lukashevich said.

"I know that the agriculture commissioner sent a letter," he added. "An explanation will be given in terms of international practice in such cases. The precedent is very serious. Naturally, any state would protect its market so that it doesn't receive such 'gifts.'"

Reuters reports Lukashevich went on to say that cucumbers from Moscow "are the best."

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