Egypt quarantine authority to ban ergot until new laws passed

Cairo | Reuters — Egypt’s agriculture quarantine authority will continue to apply a zero ergot policy on wheat shipments until new legislation is issued, the new head of the authority told Reuters on Tuesday.

Former quarantine chief Saad Moussa’s zero-tolerance policy on common grains fungus ergot resulted in shipments to the world’s biggest importer of wheat being rejected. Moussa was replaced on Sunday by Ibrahim Imbabi.

Many traders, who say guaranteeing zero ergot is impossible, have declined in recent months to make offers in state wheat tenders, saying it was too costly to risk having their shipments turned away by the quarantine authority.

Imbabi said his agency was still bound by legislation that prohibits all levels of ergot.

“We will continue to work with the agricultural quarantine legislation unless something different is issued,” said Imbabi, referring to a 2001 regulation that bars all levels of ergot from entering the country.

The agriculture ministry said on Monday it would allow wheat imports with trace levels of ergot of up to 0.05 per cent, a common international standard applied by the country’s grain importing body GASC when issuing tenders.

Although the quarantine authority falls under the ministry of agriculture, regulations governing the agency still specify zero ergot.

“We hope that there will be some amendment that is consistent with reality, but currently we are still working off of the old legislation,” said Imbabi, who declined to give a timeline for how long a change to the law could take.

He said the agriculture ministry was working with a team of experts, including those from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), to study the issue urgently and make changes to the law if necessary.

“Egypt is not against any change or amendment or development, but it should be done on a scientific basis.”

Disrupted wheat tenders have raised the possibility of a shortage of grain which could pose a political problem for President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as the impoverished population relies on highly subsidized bread.

Reporting for Reuters by Eric Knecht in Cairo.

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