Lebanon bans vegetable imports from Europe

June 04, 2011

BEIRUT: Lebanon ceased vegetable imports from all European countries Friday, following a recent outbreak of the deadly E. coli virus, which has led to the death of at least 19 people so far.

“I’m announcing the halt of vegetable imports from Europe temporarily until the picture is clearer, and I have signed the decree this morning,” said caretaker Agriculture Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan Friday.

The new strain of E. coli virus, mainly found in cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce has been linked with kidney failures.

Hamburg, Germany is said to be the place where the virus first broke out.

The European Union Friday slammed the Minister’s decision.

“Any total embargo on European vegetables is disproportionate,” Frederic Vincent, the spokesman for health at the European Commission, told AFP.

Hajj Hasan said the ban posed “no risk of shortages on the local market,” as Lebanon could count on its own production and that of neighboring Jordan and Syria. He added that Lebanon actually imports very little vegetable produce from Europe.

An adviser to the minister, Salah Hajj Hassan, told The Daily Star that European vegetable imports made up only one or two percent of the local vegetable market.

European vegetables are usually found in high-end supermarkets and restaurants, Salah Hajj Hasan said.

Lebanon is considered to be a net-exporter of fruits and vegetables, only importing the produce during times of unseasonably dry weather.

“Each shipment that arrives to Lebanon after this decision will not be allowed to enter because we still do not know the severity of the disease or how much it has spread,” said Hussein Hajj Hasan. The minister said that despite Europe’s high level of inspection, the source of the virus remains unclear.

Salah explained that after some painstaking deliberations yesterday about the issue, ministry members decided that the best way to clamp down the still unknown sources of the virus would be to impose a total embargo.

Zuheir Berro of the consumer watchdog group, Consumers Lebanon, lauded the ministry decision, endorsing the ministry’s choice to take “pre-emptive action” against a possible outbreak.

Europe repeatedly stops Lebanese produce from entering its ports, he points out, so Lebanon should be allowed to do the same.

Regarding a vegetable shipment which arrived yesterday, Hussein Hajj Hasan said that the ministry has taken samples to be tested for any bacteria.

In an interview with the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation, he called on citizens to make sure that vegetables are thoroughly cleaned with fresh water.

Source: The Daily Star.
Link: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Politics/2011/Jun-04/Lebanon-bans-all-vegetable-imports-from-Europe.ashx.

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