The European Commission (EC) said it will lift the import ban on some Egyptian vegetables imposed after E.coli outbreaks in Germany and France earlier this year - but that restrictions on fenugreek sprouts would remain.
In July, Brussels outlawed vegetable shipments from Egypt into the bloc as part of a move that contaminated fenugreek seeds from the country were responsible for the outbreak of E.coli 0104:H4 that killed 50 and sickened 4,000 in northern Germany and southwestern France during the summer.
The temporary ban was introduced in the wake of a report from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) that linked fenugreek seeds to the incidents- and included leguminous vegetables such as green beans and podded peas.
It is due to run until the end of next month to give EU officials enough time to scrutinize production standards in Egypt.
The EC said member states had yesterday backed its recommendation to reverse the decision for vegetables but leave the ban in place for Egyptian fenugreek seeds. No details over the precise timing for the move were given.
This decision came after EU experts from the Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) carried out a safety audit in Egypt “which revealed no shortcomings in the production sites of leguminous vegetables”, said the EC
The FVO is expected to finalise its mission report at the end of October. The measures on the fenugreek sprouts will remain in force until 31 October and will be reviewed then, it added.
In 2010, the EU imported around 49,000 tons of the banned fenugreek seeds from Egypt, worth more than €56m.
The UK’s Fresh Produce Consortium (FPC) welcomed the announcement but criticised Brussels for including the vegetables in the first place.
“It was vital that the European Commission identified the source of these serious E.coli outbreaks very quickly. However, this was no excuse for a knee-jerk reaction based on unfounded assumptions which jeopardised the viability of fresh produce businesses trading in Egypt and the UK,” said the body’s CEO Nigel Jenney.
He added: “Fresh produce should never have been included in this ridiculous ban and we want to see it lifted without delay. This removal of fresh produce from the ban reinforces the competence of Egyptian producers, although the same cannot be said about the Commission’s handling of the matter.”
It estimated that lost sales revenues for cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce ran to £54m, while sales of bean sprouts dropped by 30%.