The European Commission has moved to lift the ban on imports of certain fresh produce from Egypt, including fresh peas and beans.
The products were caught under an EU ban imposed after the recent E. coli outbreaks in Germany and France. The timing of the removal of the ban on certain products has not been announced yet.
In a statement, the commission said: “Fresh or chilled leguminous vegetables, such as green beans and podded peas may soon be re-imported to the European Union from Egypt, after Member States endorsed today a Commission proposal on the issue. However, there is no change concerning the temporary ban on imports of sprouts of such vegetables - they may not be imported to the EU. Imports of leguminous vegetables from Egypt, along with imports of certain types of seeds, have been banned since early July after a link was established between Egyptian Fenugreek seeds and the E. coli outbreaks (O104 strain) in northern Germany and Bordeaux, France.”
The measures on imports of the affected Egyptian products will remain in force until October 31 at which point they will be reviewed.
Nigel Jenney, chief executive of the Fresh Produce Consortium, said: “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.
“FPC is delighted that our extensive lobbying has been vindicated and common sense has been applied. 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.”
The news has been welcomed by Egyptian senders.
Ahmed El-Hodaiby, general manager of exporter Trade Waves, said: “The EU action was a temporary one with no proof that the E. coli outbreak was the result of any Egyptian fresh produce. It affected customer confidence in Egyptian produce and this will take time to recover. Of course we are happy that the ban will not be renewed, but that is just a first step. Now we need to study how to promote our produce and look at whether we can get compensation.”
The UK fresh produce industry suffered significant losses and a drop in consumption of salad products due to unfounded and premature claims linking fresh produce to the E. coli outbreaks.
FPC estimated that lost sales revenues for cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce alone were around £54 million. Sales of bean sprouts fell by 30 per cent.