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Monday, 29 August 2016

Groundhog day in Egypt as it bans wheat shipments containing ergot

Egypt bans wheat shipments contaminated with ergot — again. You are hereby forgiven for thinking you’re living in Groundhog Day. The zero-tolerance policy, which will ban “even trace levels of ergot,” was imposed by the Agriculture Ministry, according to Reuters. Better still: It apparently applies retroactively, highlighting one of many reasons why we rank 131 out of 189 countries on the ease of doing business index. “The ban will be applied to every grain of wheat entering the country. As of now no infected wheat will enter either from upcoming tenders or previous ones,” ministry spokesperson Eid Hawash said. “This will dramatically impact the market … Traders will now, if they decided to take the risk and participate in GASC tenders, charge much higher prices to cover the huge risk involving selling to Egypt,” Hesham Soliman, president of Alexandria-based Medstar for Trading, told Bloomberg. The decision to enforce the ban reverses a decree that had allowed for up to 0.05% ergot in wheat shipments, the international standard in line with the UN FAO’s Codex Alimentarius.

The decision was taken based on a three-week study conducted by the Agriculture Research Center, which concluded ergot could mutate and spread, potentially endangering plants and humans, said Ahmed Aboul Yazeed, head of the Agriculture Ministry’s Agricultural Services Department at a press conference on Sunday, Al Borsa reports. The Agriculture Ministry previously said studies showed ergot did not threaten the local crop, but that the ministry would amend its decision should “future studies appear that show an effect.” Sources are saying the minister of agriculture is trying to abide strictly to the letter of the law, fearing a fate similar to that of Supply Minister Khaled Hanafy, according to Al Mal.

Was the PM sandbagged on the decision? An agriculture ministry official claims Prime Minister Sherif Ismail was consulted on the decision. “The decision was taken in coordination with the prime minister,” Ahmed Aboul Yazeed said at the conference, Reuters reported. However, Al Shorouk is reporting that Fayed’s decision surprised Ismail, who had previously pushed for Egypt to follow UN FAO standards. The PM has reportedly responded by stepping-up the search for Hanafy’s successor. The newspaper suggests that Hanafy had been a thorn in Fayed’s side on the ergot issue.

More restrictions could come? The Agriculture Research Center has reportedly compiled a list of 15 countries which it says have the highest ergot contamination risk and could back additional restrictions on imports from those countries, said Ashraf Khalil, head of Plant Pathology Research Institute, according to Al Mal. Among them are some of the world’s largest wheat producers, including the US and Canada, as well as Brazil, Germany, Uruguay, and Serbia. A list of alternatives has also been drawn up in the event a ban on shipments from these countries are enforced. Countries the center deems to be of low contamination include Russia, Ukraine, Latvia and Moldova, said Aboul Yazeed.

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