E. coli contaminated seeds: Is Egypt the root?

Ahmed Feteha, Salma Hussein, Wednesday 6 Jul 2011

Egypt and EU representatives are holding meetings to discuss a controversial ban on Egyptian seeds following conflicting reports on where Europe's lethal outbreak originated

Trace Chart
Network graphic showing the trace back of fenugreek seeds lot no. 48088 from the two clusters in Germany and France via all identified distributors/producers to the company in Egypt. (Source: European Food Security Authority)

Seeds from the Egyptian farm suspected of starting a lethal outbreak in Europe have tested free of E. coli contamination after analysis performed by Egyptian and American laboratories.

"The central laboratories of the Ministry of Health along with Naval Medical Research Unit 3 in Cairo (NAMRU) did not find traces [of E. coli] in seed samples taken from the suspected Egyptian farm," an official at the Ministry of Agriculture told Ahram Online, denying Egypt is the source of the current health crisis.
 
The findings were announced one day after the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published a technical report claiming Egyptian fenugreek seeds were linked to the deadly E. Coli outbreak in Germany and France.
 
The report concluded that Egyptian seeds that were used to produce sprouts were exported to Germany in 2009 and were the most probable link between the two outbreaks in Northern Germany and Bordeaux, France.
 
EFSA said that back-tracing information from France and Germany led to the conclusion that lot number 48088 of fenugreek seeds, which left Egypt on October 2009, is the common factor behind the outbreaks.
 
The ship arrived to Germany on 12 May 2009 via Antwerp in Belgium, and also passed by Rotterdam in the Netherlands.
 
The report did not give the name of the Egyptian farm nor the exporting company.
 
It also said it was a possibility that other Egyptian seeds imported in the period between 2009 and 2011 might be responsible. 
 
Egypt's official analysis seems to refute the EFSA report's findings.
 
"We [the Ministry of Agriculture] formed a committee which inspected all the seeds coming out of the accused exporting company. They were all free of any sort of contamination," says Mohieddin Kadah, head of the scientific projects bureau at the Ministry of Agriculture.
 
Kadah noted that Germany sent an official letter to the ministry on Wednesday confirming that Egypt was not responsible.
 
On Tuesday, the EU imposed a ban on imports of certain seeds from Egypt. Russia followed suit on Wednesday, citing the European decision.
 
Egyptian and European representatives are gathering today to discuss the local analysis results and the partial EU ban on seed imports from
Egypt. In 2010, around one quarter of Egypt's non-cotton agricultural exports went to the EU, totalling US$713.13 million. 
 
Member states also have to ensure that all "seeds imported from one Egyptian exporter between 2009 and 2011 are withdrawn from the market, sampled and destroyed", the EU said. 
 
On 1 June, Spanish Deputy PM said his country may take action against German authorities for blaming its produce for an E. coli outbreak.
 
Deputy Prime Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba recalled that on 26 May health authorities in the German state of Hamburg said Spanish cucumbers were found to be contaminated with E. coli, but did not show Spain was the source of the strain.
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