Spanish farmers hand out veges to publicize plight

AP News
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Posted: Jun 08, 2011 9:46 AM
Spanish farmers hand out veges to publicize plight

They handed out tiny cherry tomatoes and heavy watermelons, sweet apricots and crisp peppers, purple eggplants and white potatoes _ the entire rainbow of Spain's farm bounty.

Spanish farmers whose revenue has been devastated by the deadly E. coli outbreak gave away an estimated 40 tons of produce Wednesday to draw attention to their plight.

Hundreds of people lined up under a hot sun to edge past tables brimming with produce from all over Spain. They walked away with plastic bags or cardboard crates bulging with ripe peppers, tomatoes, apricots, eggplant, lettuce, potatoes and just about everything else that Spain grows this time of year.

Farm leaders at a press conference joined the Spanish government in rejecting as insufficient an EU aid offer of euro150 million ($220 million) for farmers across Europe.

They called on the European Union to help Germany _ which initially blamed Spanish cucumbers for the outbreak, then German sprouts, only to backtrack both times _ and take on a much bigger role in investigating the still-unknown source of the bacteria that has killed 26 people and sickened over 2,700.

They also urged a massive public relations campaign to restore European consumer confidence in fresh produce _ something that will be hard to do when Germany still has not found the source of the deadly outbreak.

"The EU must be responsible. It should not try to buy us off with euro150 million," said Miguel Lopez, secretary general of the COAG farm association, which has calculated Spanish farmers' losses alone at euro350 million ($511 million) so far.

"It is disgraceful. It is humiliating. It is pathetic," Lopez said of the EU aid offer.

Francisco Gil, a 52-year-old farm leader from the southeast Murcia region, said money for lost sales will not solve the problem, officials must find the source of the bacteria to restore consumer confidence.

The EU, he said, "has not addressed the real issue. It is not about money. It is about fixing the problem."