Economy /

(Cairo) – Egypt says it has already started taking measures to ensure that shipments of wheat coming from Russia will not contain any radioactive materials.

“We have already declared the state of emergency in preparation for implementing the measures,” said Ahmed al-Attar, the head of Agricultural Quarantine, a section of the Ministry of Agriculture responsible for ensuring the safety of food imports. “Shipments coming from Russia will be examined thoroughly to ensure that they do not contain any mutation rates.”

The new measures are Egypt’s response to the mystery explosion that took place at a military base northwestern Russia on August 8.

The explosion, which left five research workers dead, was believed to have been caused by a nuclear-powered missile test gone wrong. The Russian government has not elaborated on the causes behind the explosion, but in Egypt the same incident is causing alarm.

The fear in Egypt is that shipments of Russian wheat coming here may contain radioactive materials that at the end cause health hazards to the wheat-addicted population. With a population of more than 100 million, Egypt consumes close to 20 million tons of wheat every year. Local production covers only about a third of the consumption. Egypt has to import the remaining required amounts from other countries and Russia is at the top of the suppliers’ list.

This year, Egyptian farmers are cultivating 3.2 million acres of farmland with wheat. This farmland is expected to produce 9.5 million tons of wheat, about half a million ton higher than the production of last year.

Nevertheless, the government is only able to buy about a third of this amount of local wheat because of competition with the private sector. The government needs the wheat to produce subsidized bread for around 70 million people enrolled in the national food subsidy system. Around 9 million tons of wheat are needed for the production of the subsidized bread. About two thirds of the wheat needed in this regard has to come from abroad. Egypt imports around 12 million tons of wheat from Russia every year, which costs Cairo billions of dollars, depending on international market prices.

The first shipment of Russian wheat should arrive here within days. Nevertheless, this shipment had departed the port in Russia before the August 8 blast, according to the Egyptian Agricultural Quarantine. Quarantine officials say they have already addressed the Russian side for clarification on the places where wheat is stored in Russia before it is shipped to Egypt.

When the wheat comes here, teams from the Agricultural Quarantine will examine it carefully to ensure that it is not contaminated with any radioactive materials.

“The presence of any mutation rate in wheat samples will lead to the rejection of the whole shipment,” al-Attar said. Egypt has been trying to increase wheat production for decades now. However, production constraints are caused by limited water supplies. Egypt has only one source of water, namely the Nile River which provides it with 55.5 billion cubic meters of water every year. This amount of water is around 20 billion cubic meters below annual national needs.

Water supplies from the Nile are also now under threat, with Ethiopia, which is home to the most important tributaries of the Nile, constructing a multibillion dollar dam on the river to generate electricity for its people and for neighboring countries.

Fear from radiation, following the latest nuclear explosion in Russia, keeps Egyptian agricultural officials on their toes. Some Egyptian experts have already suggested the dispatch of specialists to Russia to examine wheat shipments before they arrive here. Minister of Agriculture Ezzeddine Abu Steit, said his ministry would do everything possible to protect Egyptian consumers against dangers.

“We take what local consumers eat very seriously,” Abu Steit said. “This is why we will do everything possible to ensure that the wheat coming here from Russia is safe.”