Iraq

Iraq: Australian wheat safe for consumption, officials say

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BAGHDAD, 20 Jun 2005 (IRIN) - The Iraqi government has announced that Australian wheat, reportedly contaminated with iron dust, is safe for human consumption and is going to be discharged without delay.

Baghdad finally cleared the 120,000 mt of wheat, which has been stored in the southern port of Umm-Qasr since 18 April.

The wheat was a part of a one million mt contract between Iraq and the Australian Wheat Board (AWB). Wheat is an important part of Baghdad's regular food supplies to needy Iraqis and a staple element of their diet.

"After carrying out extensive testing on the Australian wheat we have found that it is safe for consumption and the green light has been given to discharge it from Umm Qasr. This process will start within days," a senior official of the Ministry of Trade (MoT), Jua'ad Salman, said.

Salman added that the decision was made after a meeting with the cabinet, which unanimously agreed on the safety of the product.

The problem first arose when iron particles were found in some consignments of imported wheat flour in April, but officials said the contamination probably took place during the milling process in Iraq, rather than at source or during shipping.

The Australian government has maintained all along that the wheat was free of contamination and safe to use.

Ahmed Salahdine, chemical engineer at the MoT's quality control laboratory, explained that some of the flour milling equipment may have led to iron dust contamination.

"We took time to reach the final results because we had to check individual equipment in the milling factories to find the true source of the contamination. I can now guarantee that the Australian wheat is safe for human consumption," Salahdine added.

A spokesman for the AWB, Peter Mc Bride, told IRIN from the Australian capital, Canberra, that the results vindicated the board. He added that the delay has cost the AWB an estimated US $100,000 in shipping charges.

"Now that this matter is resolved the AWB will be working much closer with the Iraqi Grains Board (IGB) to ensure that these circumstances never happen again. We have been the major wheat supplier to Iraq and we expect to continue being the major supplier for many more years," Mc Bride added.

Australia has been supplying wheat to Iraq for over 50 years and had never faced problems over quality of grain supplies in the past.

[ENDS]

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