Official responsible for anti-ergot crusade removed from post

An official at the center of a wheat-import controversy has been removed from his post by the agriculture minister.

Saad Mousa, who headed the ministry’s Quarantine Authority and spearheaded an effort to block wheat shipments with any trace of the ergot fungus, has been replaced, according to a Sunday statement from the ministry.

Moussa and his zero-tolerance policy was at the center of months of confusion over Egypt’s agricultural import policies that has shaken the global wheat market and caused the failure of two of the Egyptian government’s wheat tenders.

Since December, the Quarantine Authority, Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Supply have sent mixed messages over import inspections, particularly on acceptable levels of ergot in wheat imports. The Ministry of Supply has maintained that Egypt will permit the entry of wheat cargos containing 0.05 percent ergot contamination, a pledge reiterated in a joint statement with the Agriculture Minister. However, confusion has continued. 

In late-February, a Canadian wheat shipment was rejected over ergot traces and was rerouted to be sold in Europe. The Quarantine Authority also reportedly rejected four shipments of soybeans due to contamination with ragweed seeds. 

Last week, the Quarantine Authority was reported to be considering halting agricultural inspections abroad, forcing shipments to be inspected in Egyptian ports. Such a move would considerably increase risk for suppliers, who would be forced to cover the costs of shipping without knowing if the shipment would be accepted. The Agriculture Ministry later denied the rumors.

These mixed messages between the Quarantine Authority, the rest of the Agriculture Ministry and other government agencies have sowed uncertainty for wheat suppliers. Auctions to sell wheat to Egypt have witnessed higher than average prices and far fewer participants. Moussa’s dismissal may be an effort by the Agriculture Ministry to reassure wheat traders and reassert control over the Quarantine Authority. 

The ministerial statement did not mention the ergot controversy, maintaining only that the move is a part of an effort to “restructure the Ministry of Agriculture and its various sectors to develop and improve its performance.” 

Ibrahim Ahmed Embabi, an official in the Agricultural Research Center, will take over as acting chairman of the Quarantine Authority.


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