Minister of Agriculture Ayman Farid Abu Hadid denied on Thursday that Egyptian fenugreek seeds were responsible for the outbreak of E. coli in Europe, pointing to laboratory tests conducted by his ministry proving that Egyptian seeds for export were not infected.
The minister also rejected claims from the Israeli government that Egyptian cucumbers exported to Greece were to blame.
European food and disease prevention authorities said on Wednesday that they are investigating whether the E. coli outbreak in Germany and France could be traced back to fenugreek seeds imported from Egypt either in 2009 or last year.
The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control and the European Food Safety Authority said in a joint report that "there is still much uncertainty about whether this is truly the common cause of all the infections."
The report said|: "Fenugreek seeds imported from Egypt either in 2009 and/or 2010 are implicated in both outbreaks." However, further investigation was necessary, said the report.
Fenugreek seeds are commonly used in the preparation of pickles and curry powders. They are also used in Indian, Ethiopian and Yemeni cuisine.
The death toll in Europe's E. coli outbreak has risen by three to 47, according to German authorities. Germany's disease control center said earlier this week that 46 deaths have now been reported in the country, and that one person has died in Sweden. In France, eight people have been reported as infected so far, seven of whom have been hospitalized in the Bordeaux region, while another person was discharged.
The minister accused Israel of attempting to tarnish the reputation of Egyptian agricultural exports, which enjoy high demand in Europe and other markets. He said the Israeli government had leaked a false report to the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot, claiming that Egyptian cucumber exports to Greece contained E. coli.
The Egyptian Agriculture Export Council called on the European authorities not to announce suspected cases without being sure of the source of the bacteria.
Translated from the Arabic Edition