Market News & Headlines >> Egypt Reverses Ergot Policy Again

Egypt shocked wheat exporters on Sunday by reinstating a controversial zero-tolerance policy on the common grain fungus ergot in wheat imports that it had lifted just last month.

Furthermore, Egyptian officials said they would apply the decision retroactively. "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," agriculture ministry spokesman Eid Hawash said, giving no reason for the decision, according to Reuters News Service.

Egypt last month said it would accept imported wheat shipments containing 0.05% of ergot, a common international standard. The July decision boosted the number of suppliers participating in import tenders from the General Authority for Supply Commodities' (GASC), Egypt’s main state wheat buyer. Sunday’s about-face could cause some exporters to boycott GASC tenders again and will likely mean higher offering prices from those who do take part. Suppliers say guaranteeing zero ergot is nearly impossible.

A Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) risk assessment conducted earlier this year concluded ergot posed no threat to Egyptian crops, but the agriculture ministry said at the time it would reinstate zero tolerance if future studies showed ergot affecting crops.  On Sunday, the head of Egypt’s plant pathology center told Reuters a follow-up study found ergot did pose a risk to crops if it entered the country, and that the FAO report had not taken into consideration the different strands of ergot and Egypt's hot climate.