The European Union is expected to lift its embargo on Egyptian seeds – put in place following the deadly E. coli outbreak linked to fenugreek seeds from that country – within the next two weeks.
A week after an EU delegation was sent to Egypt to investigate the current safety of the seed supply there, the team has wrapped up its investigation and is returning to Europe to report its findings to the European Commission. The EC will use the information to decide whether or not to lift its ban on 15 varieties of Egyptian beans and seeds.
The team did not find any signs of E. coli O104:H4 contamination during their visit, reported Sherif Al-Beltaguy, chairman of Egypt’s Agricultural Export Council Monday, according to Afrique en ligne.
However, a lack of hard evidence is not a sure sign that Egyptian seeds are free of contamination, as sampling does not always reveal the presence of bacteria on sprouting seeds. The sample can be taken from a different bag than the one carrying tainted seeds, or the amount of bacteria on a seed may be too small to register on a test unless the seed is sprouted.
The ban on Egyptian seeds, instigated July 5, was originally scheduled to last until the end of October, but officials are now considering moving that date up by more than a month. The European Commission is expected to review the investigators’ report within the next 10 days, says Al-Beltaguy.
Last week, Ukraine lifted its embargo on the import of Egyptian vegetables and seeds, raising hopes in the African country that other countries would soon follow suit.
The Egyptian agricultural ministry also reported that all produce tested for the outbreak strain of E. coli have come back negative.
The seed shipment pinpointed as the source of the outbreak was imported from Egypt in 2009, before being distributed throughout Europe. The source of the contamination likely occurred before the seeds were shipped – either during growing or processing – according to the findings of an emergency task force organized in July by the EU.
The outbreak, centered in Germany and linked to sprouted fenugreek seeds, began in May and was officially declared over in late July, after new cases were no longer being reported. In total, the deadly bacteria claimed 53 lives and sickened over 4,000 Europeans.