Cairo | Reuters — Egypt has appointed a new head of its agriculture quarantine authority, the ministry of agriculture said on Sunday, replacing Saad Moussa, who has been at the centre of a controversy over the country’s wheat imports.
As head of the agricultural quarantine agency Moussa imposed a zero tolerance policy on ergot, a common grains fungus. This was at odds with the ministry of agriculture and supply backing a more common international standard that allows trace levels.
“Essam Fayed the minister of agriculture has appointed Ibrahim Ahmed Imbabi, head of the Plant Pathology Research Institute, to head the central administration of the agricultural quarantine authority,” a statement from the ministry said.
The ministry said Imbabi’s appointment was part of a plan to “restructure the ministry of agriculture and its various sectors, to develop and improve its performance.”
One source close to the matter who asked not be named due to the sensitivity of the issue said Moussa was relieved of his post due to the controversy he caused over ergot.
Many traders, who say guaranteeing zero ergot is impossible, have declined in recent months to make offers in state wheat tenders, saying it was too costly to risk having their shipments later turned away by Moussa’s quarantine authority.
The disrupted wheat tenders have raised the possibility of a shortage of grain which could pose a political problem for President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as the impoverished population relies on highly subsidised bread.
Traders welcomed the decision to replace Moussa and some said purchase tenders would return to normal as a result.
“I can say that for the majority of suppliers they will be more willing to participate in tenders now,” one Cairo-based trader said.
On Thursday, sources told Reuters the agricultural quarantine authority was considering halting inspections of imported wheat abroad.
Egypt, the world’s largest importer of the grain, typically sends its inspectors to ports abroad to clear wheat the government has purchased ahead of its shipment. Cancelling this would have increased the risk to traders that wheat would be rejected after it had been shipped.
On Friday, the agriculture ministry said it would continue to send its experts abroad as normal.
— Reporting for Reuters by Ehab Farouk in Cairo; additional reporting by Erick Knecht in Cairo and Maha El Dahan in Abu Dhabi.Tagged agriculture quarantine, Egypt, ergot, ministry of agriculture