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By John Helmer, Moscow

Gennady Onishchenko, the Russian government’s chief food inspector and head of the federal inspection agency Rospotrebnadzor, has ordered a ban on imports of vegetables, announcing: “we urge the population not to buy fresh vegetables from Germany and Spain. Buy Russian production.”

But this time the notorious protectionist of Russian farm, food and wine producers hasn’t gone too far. Instead, a spate of international reports claiming that in addition to cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce, Onishchenko has also stopped imported fruits turns out to be mistaken.

A spokesman for Onishchenko told Fairplay today he has banned just three vegetables – cucumber, tomatoes, and lettuce originating from Spain and Germany – but left the fruit trade unaffected.

According to a report which apparently started on May 30 with the Chinese newsagency Xinhua Onishchenko’s ban order included fruit. But the press release of Rospotrebnadzor of that day refers only to “raw vegetables (tomatoes, cucumber and lettuce) produced in Germany and Spain.”

The reason for the ban is the identification of a severe strain of the E.coli bacterium, which has caused intestinal symptoms among consumers in northern Germany, and contributed to a dozen or more deaths. So far, the German epidemiological authorities are blaming the contamination on Spain, the source of the affected produce. The Spaniards have reacted by blaming contamination further along the supply chain, after the cucmbers had crossed the Spanish border, heading north. German laboratory results are reported in Spain today as clearing the Spanish products as the source of the E.coli outbreaks, even as the appetite for cucumbers has dwindled right across Europe.

Onishchenko has avoided taking sides, and banned the vegetables from both countries. “Despite repeated appeals,” he says, “the [Russian] Federal [Sanitary] Service has received no information from the European Union about the source of the infection, the dangerous products and the action taken to contain and eliminate outbreaks.” Onischenko’s only reported reference to imported fruit has been to tell Russians on Tuesday to wash it carefully before eating.

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