Farm ministers of the European Union countries are scheduled to hold an emergency meeting today to discuss the impact on fruit and vegetable producers of the E. coli bacteria outbreak that has been blamed for the deaths of at least 22 people in Europe, mostly in Germany.
Officials say the meeting in Luxembourg is expected to discuss possible financial aid for producers whose sales have suffered because of consumer fears about contamination.
EU Health Commissioner John Dalli said the bloc's food-safety alert system would also be reviewed to ensure that warnings had "scientific basis and proof" before becoming public.
"It is crucial that national authorities do not rush to give information on the source of infection which is not proven by bacteriological analysis," Dalli said, "as this spreads unjustified fears in the population all over Europe and creates problems for our food producers selling products in the EU and outside of the EU."
The outbreak has led to an import ban on EU vegetables by Russia, while producers in countries such as Spain, the Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium have suffered financial losses due to declining exports.
Spanish exporters say they have been losing 200 million euros ($280 million) a week after German authorities initially wrongly blamed Spain as the source of the outbreak.
German authorities now say the source of the outbreak remains unknown, after tests on suspected vegetable sprouts from an organic farm in northern Germany showed no evidence of the highly aggressive, toxic strain of E. coli blamed for 21 deaths in Germany and one in Sweden.
compiled from agency reports