E-mail this article to
yourself or a friend.
Enter address:


Egyptian wheat buyers touch on biotech issue during first leg of U.S. tour

by Robert Schubert
CropChoice editor

(Tuesday, July 22, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- WASHINGTON -- Egyptian wheat industry representatives discussed a number of marketing issues, including credits and genetically modified organisms (GMOs), with reporters this morning before traveling to Denver on the next leg of their two-week U.S. tour.

Egypt annually imports approximately 7 million metric tons of wheat, the majority of which comes from the United States, Australia and France. However, with higher prices resulting from last year's drought in North America and Australia, Egypt turned to cheaper imports from the Black Sea region. With the drought now gone and prices more reasonable, the officials present from the three major wheat buying and milling companies said they hope to re-enter the U.S. market, possibly buying 3 million metric tons of U.S. wheat this marketing year.

Egypt's mills grind approximately 4 million metric tons of primarily soft red and soft white winter wheat that the government's food procurer, the General Authority for Supply Commodities (GASC), annually imports to make subsidized bread. Wheat accounts for 80 percent of the bread and domestically grown white corn the other 20 percent. (Mahmoud Hassan, the GASC vice chairman, meant to accompany the private sector wheat buyers on the trip, but he was denied a visa.)

About 3 million metric tons of wheat are imported to make free-market flour.

Abou Zeid Abou-Zeid, chairman of Middle and West Delta Flour Mills Co. in Tanta, Egypt, said he wants to purchase U.S. hard red winter and spring wheats. Indeed, the officials agreed that around 80 percent of those varieties likely will come from the United States this year.

To ease such purchases, and to protect importers from Egyptian currency devaluations, the wheat industry officials met yesterday with U.S. Department of Agriculture officials to discuss new financing options through the Department's export credit programs.

The issue of genetically modified wheat, which Monsanto is developing and hopes to sell in the next year or two, also came up. Egyptian buyers, millers and consumers are opposed to it, said Hassan Abdel-Ghaffar, the Cairo-based senior marketing specialist and programs manager with U.S. Wheat Associates, the promoter of American wheat abroad. "They know GMO wheat is not in the pipeline now, but they don't want to see it," he said.

In the future, the country's agriculture and health authorities might approve transgenic wheat, in which case the government would have to "prepare consumers," said Magdy Moustafa, chairman of the October Company for Milling and Storage.

But for now, "buyers don't want it," Abdel-Ghaffar added.

Asked about a traceability regime on wheat imports if Monsanto's GM variety were to appear on the market before receiving Egypt's approval, he said it was possible. That would mean tracing American wheat imports back through the supply chain -- a costly proposition -- to ensure that biotech and conventional wheat weren't mixed.

The wheat buyers left today for Denver where they will meet with the Colorado Wheat Administrative Committee. They will also travel to Kansas City, MO., Houston, and Portland, Ore., before returning to Cairo on Aug. 1.

See related story: "Korean Miller: 'Consumer is King'"; http://www.cropchoice.com/leadstry.asp?recid=1623