Egypt rejects US wheat shipment due to high ergot fungus content

The Agriculture Ministry has issued a final rejection to a shipment of wheat from the US, saying that it has levels of ergot fungus that breach international standards.

In a statement on Thursday, Agriculture Minister Essam Fayed said the shipment was over the internationally agreed level of 0.05 percent. Fayed said that the examined a sample containing 0.096 percent of ergot.

The US shipment from Venus International was orginally rejected by Egypt on June 13, but Venus appealed on July 10. However, the wheat has now failed a second inspection, and the ministry has now made its final ruling.

“The ministry will continue to preserve its botanical wealth by rejecting imported wheat that has an ergot percentage exceeding the allowed level,” the Agriculture Ministry said in a statement.

Mohamed Abdel Fadil, the chairman of Egyptian trading house Venus, told Bloomberg that the company will resell the shipment, although he didn't say where it would be sold to.

The level of ergot fungus in wheat shipments has been an ongoing cause for controversy in Egypt, with the former head of the agriculture quarantine authority Saad Moussa replaced in March for insisting on a zero-tolerance policy on ergot in wheat shipments.

Several shipments were turned away under Moussa because they contained ergot fungus, which can cause hallucinations and irrational behaviour in large quantities but is harmless in trace quantities.

The new head of the authority, Ibrahim Imbaby, sought to apply the internationally accepted level of 0.05 percent, and the new rule was cemented in July with a ministerial decree.

French, Canadian and Polish wheat shipments were rejected earlier this year due to their ergot content, and wheat suppliers became reluctant to make offers in Egyptian wheat tenders. Wheat supplies in Egypt are a cause for concern due to the heavy reliance on wheat for making bread, a cheap staple of the national diet.

Egyptian officials are currently engaged in a review of the levels of domestic wheat held in silos after reports that many officials and traders were over-estimating stocks in order to gain additional funds from government subsidies. Several arrests have been made in recent weeks.

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