BRUSSELS (AP) — Pressed hard by outraged farmers, the European Union farm chief on Wednesday increased his offer of compensation for the E. coli outbreak to €210 million ($306 million).
EU Farm Commissioner Dacian Ciolos had initially proposed €150 million ($219 million) to the struggling farmers, who have tons of unwanted produce rotting in fields and warehouses as Europeans shun vegetables, fearing they are contaminated with a deadly strain of E. coli.
But under pressure from big producers like Spain, Italy and France, he was forced to offer more help. The 27-nation bloc is expected to make a final decision on Tuesday.
The package covers the period from when the farm crisis began late last month till the end of June, in the hopes that the scare will have abated by then.
"We don't know how things are going to evolve. We cannot predict," Ciolos said. "At the end of June we will see where we stand."
The proposed aid still falls far short of the losses that European farmers have estimated — over €400 million ($600 million) a week — and farmers are expected to demand even better terms.
The European farmers federation Copa-Cogeca immediately rejected the new offer as insufficient.
"More funds must be made available to help pull the sector out of this deep crisis," Copa-Cogeca Secretary-General Pekka Pesonen said.
Ciolos had hiked the compensation from 30 percent of the value of the crops to 50 percent, but the industry is still demanding 100 percent compensation for the losses.
Ciolos said he came up with a better offer Wednesday because he included zucchini and peppers on top of his initial offer for cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce. He said the funds would be covered by the existing EU farm budget.
At least 26 people have now died since May 2 in the world's deadliest known outbreak of E. coli, and over 2,700 have been sickened by the bacteria. No cause for the outbreak has yet been found.