Russia is ending a blanket ban on vegetable imports from the European Union put in place over fears of E. coli infection, starting with the Netherlands and Belgium, the nation's top consumer rights watchdog said Tuesday.
Shipments of European vegetables to Russia were allowed to resume Tuesday, the nation's top consumer rights watchdog said, following a 26-day ban intended to prevent an E. coli outbreak centered on Germany from spreading east. Germany reported one more death in the outbreak, taking the total to at least 47, but infections have declined significantly over recent weeks.
The EU has called Russia's ban disproportionate and the dispute has clouded Russia's talks on accession to the World Trade Organization.
The Russian consumer protection agency didn't say when imports of vegetables from other EU nations will resume, but added that the Czech Republic, Denmark, Lithuania, Spain and Poland are on the waiting list.
Russia and the EU have reached agreement on safety certification, and agency chief Gennady Onishchenko said that every shipment of vegetables must be accompanied by an individual certificates guaranteeing its safety.
Russia is the last major economy that isn't a member of the WTO, the international free-trade body, and accession to it is crucial to a broader partnership agreement the EU wants to establish with Russia.
Onishchenko said that Netherlands and Belgium were the first to be allowed to restart shipments because there have been no cases of infection among their residents and because Russia trusts their labs. He said that both nations are only allowed to send their homegrown vegetables to Russia.
Imports from the Netherlands account for about one-third of the total EU vegetable imports to Russia, he said.
He said his agency is cautious about resuming imports from Poland because in the past it had re-exported significant amounts of food from other nations. Onishchenko added that his agency also has no immediate plan to allow the resumption of vegetable imports from Germany.
The disease control center says 3,901 people have been reported sick in Germany _ including 838 suffering from a complication that can lead to kidney failure. A further 142 cases have been reported in 15 other countries. New infections have declined significantly over recent weeks but overall numbers are still rising due to delays in notification.
The source has been traced to a sprout farm in northern Germany. It's unclear how the sprouts were contaminated.
The Robert Koch Institute, Germany's disease control center, said 47 deaths have now been reported in the country. One person has died in Sweden and officials say one death in the U.S. may be linked to the outbreak
Meanwhile, in Sweden the Institute for Communicable Disease Control said an E.coli case it identified Tuesday is the first in the country without any direct link to Germany. It said it remains unclear how the patient was infected.
Sweden has previously reported 53 cases of the infection, including 18 cases of the complication that can lead to kidney failure. All were linked to Germany.
Karin Tegmark-Wisell, a senior physician at the institute, said the patient in southern Sweden had not traveled abroad and does not have any direct links to neither Germany or France.
The agency has now started an investigation to trace the source of the infection, which is also known as EHEC.
Also Tuesday, Danish health authorities said 23 people in Denmark have been infected, including a 24-year-old who had no direct link to Germany. The case was reported last month and it remained unclear how the patient was infected.