Egypt rejects French wheat shipment over high fungus contamination

EGYPT – The government of Egypt has rejected a shipment of 63,000 tonnes of wheat sourced from France which officials in the country said that the commodity had exceeded the authorized levels of ergot, a grain fungus.

According to a report by Reuters, Egyptian officials found 0.1% ergot in the wheat shipment, which exceeds the acceptable level of 0.05%.

The wheat shipment follows a purchase made through an international tender by Egypt’s General Authority for Supply Commodities (GASC) but a request has been filed to re-test the consignment.

Ergot is a common grain fungus which when ingested at high levels is known to cause hallucinations but is considered harmless at low quantities.

Codex Alimentarius, a collection of internationally recognized standards, recommends 0.05% ergot as the minimum acceptable level of the fungal contamination that is safe for consumption.

In 2016, Egypt- which is the world’s largest wheat importer- reinstates a ban on even trace levels of ergot which sparked jitters in the global market.

However, after rejection of several wheat import cargoes, the government later readopted an internationally recognised standard allowing up to 0.05 percent of ergot in wheat.

Earlier this year, the government also rejected a consignment of Romanian wheat over a non-specified quality issue, which according to the Reuters report traders attributed to falling numbers, a measure of milling quality.

Traders have faulted the confusing and ever-changing policies regarding levels of ergot which have subsequently distanced most traders who were unwilling to risk making contracts that could later be rejected.

According to the traders the quarantine agency has been applying a zero tolerance policy towards ergot despite both the supply and agriculture ministers saying they would accept the globally permissible 0.05 percent.

The country had also rejected a French wheat cargo in 2017 for containing poppy seeds.

Egypt imports nearly 10 million tonnes of wheat each year, most of which is used in providing subsidized bread to feed its over 97 million population with an annual demand of between 16 to 18 million tonnes.

However, according to report by Hellenic News Supply Minister Ali, Moselhy said that he expected local wheat procurement this 2019 season to remain stable at around 3.6 million tonnes.

The country mainly sources wheat from the Black Sea region, and occasionally from France and the United States.

Serbian wheat was added to a list of origins approved by Egypt’s agriculture ministry for purchases in February this year.

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