Further E.coli fallout sees EC extend Egyptian seed ban

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Further E.coli fallout sees EC extend Egyptian seed ban
The European Commission (EC) has endorsed the extension of a ban on selected Egyptian seeds and beans until next March as the fallout continues from this spring’s deadly E.coli crisis.

A temporary ban on imports was due to expire on October 31 2011, but despite calls from Egyptian producers for it to be lifted, the EC has revealed that it will stay in place following an unsatisfactory audit of producers in the country.

Affected items include rocket sprouts, sprouts of leguminous vegetables (fresh or chilled), soya bean sprouts, dried (shelled) leguminous vegetables, fenugreek seeds, soya beans and mustard seeds.

The audit mission was undertaken by the EC's Food & Veterinary Office (FVO) from August 21-25, in order to trace the possible source of the infection for the E.coli O104:H4 outbreaks in Germany and France.

The FVO also sought to “evaluate the production and processing conditions of the suspect seeds”.

But according to the EC, the audit “showed that measures introduced by the Egyptian authorities to address shortcomings in the production of seeds that may potentially sprouted for human consumption are not sufficient to tackle the identified risks.”

Guarantees insufficient

Furthermore, the EC said, the measures introduced did not lend “sufficient guarantees”​ of an active commitment to produce seeds and beans in accordance with Regulation EC 852/2004.

“Following the FVO’s findings, the Commission has proposed to prolong the ban,”​ the EC said in a statement.

The decision was taken by the EC’s Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health, which endorsed the extension of the import ban on Monday.

An EC source told FoodProductionDaily.com that a report compiled by the FVO on its mission will be made public shortly, and would include more information on reasons for the extension of the ban.

The source added that they were unaware of any official reaction from the Egyptian government – specifically the Ministry of Agriculture and Land Reclamation – following the EC’s decision.

But they said that the authorities there had shown a co-operative spirit in dealings with EU officials, both during and after the mission in August.

Ridiculous mistake?

Last week Egyptian fresh and chilled peas and beans and other fresh produce was removed from the EC’s current blacklist of products banned from import to the bloc since July.

As a result, the EC released an update annex to its “emergency measures applicable to fenugreek seeds and certain seeds and beans imported from Egypt”​, which is available to read here​.

While the annex identified shortcomings in the production of seeds for human consumption, it found that the same shortcomings were not present in production sites of fresh leguminous vegetables intended for the same purpose.

The UK-based Fresh Produce Consortium expressed relief at the lifting of the fresh produce ban in time for imports of Egyptian peas and beans.

Howver, CEO Nigel Jenney slammed the EC’s decision to ban such products as a “ridiculous mistake” ​that had cost fresh produce firms dearly, both in Egypt and the UK.

The Egyptian Ministry of Agriculture and Land Reclamation was unavailable for comment.

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