EGYPT RE-TESTING RUSSIAN WHEAT AS ERGOT FUNGUS SPAWNS CONTROVERSY AGAIN

Egypt is re-testing a 63,000-tonne Russian wheat cargo for ergot, the common grain fungus, days after rejecting it for excessive levels, official and trade sources said.

The samples were sent from the Red Sea port of Safaga to a central laboratory in Cairo.

Egypt, the world’s largest wheat importer, said on Thursday the cargo, sold to state grain buyer GASC, contained 0.06% ergot, just above the 0.05% limit permitted under Egypt’s state tender rules.

The rejected cargo was the fourth shipment to be halted in recent weeks, though the first to be held up for ergot. It amounts to about 250,000 tonnes of grains that GASC may now have to get from world markets.

Egypt is unlikely to face any immediate shortages. The government has already bought 3 million tonnes of its 3.5 million-tonne target from a local harvest, and strategic reserves can cover the country’s needs for five months.

But Egypt’s Administrative Prosecution Authority has charged the vice chairman of the country’s state grain buyer and other employees with suspected financial and administrative violations. If the vice chairman is found guilty, he would face possible fines and dismissal.

“Seems like the Russians may have put some pressure,” one Cairo-based trader said.

Egypt is Russia’s largest and most important wheat market. Russia’s agriculture safety watchdog has said it would send a team of experts to Egypt.

Egypt has in recent years baffled traders by applying tough import standards, most notably a zero tolerance level for ergot, which it later scrapped for the more internationally accepted 0.05% content level after major suppliers shunned state tenders.

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