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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

IRAQ: Tests continuing on contaminated wheat

BAGHDAD, 11 May 2005 (IRIN) - While tests continue on contaminated wheat flour previously included in monthly food rations for millions of Iraqis, doctors fear it may already have been consumed with possible detrimental affects on health.

The Iraqi government suspended the import of the wheat from Australia on 18 April, after traces of iron dust were found. There is still no confirmation as to how the particles entered the wheat.

“We have to study the situation carefully as we are talking about a very delicate issue and we don’t want to accuse anyone without full confirmation and our laboratories are working hard for a very precise result,” Minister of Trade (MoT), Abdel Basset, told IRIN in Baghdad.

“Australia has been the biggest trader in wheat with Iraq for decades and we have to respect that,” he added.

Flour supplies have been removed temporarily from the monthly food ration, included in the Public Distribution System (PDS) by the MoT, on which most of the country is still dependant.

“Iraqis depend on bread for all daily meals and a concentration of the iron dust could have accumulated in the bread. Some of the contaminated wheat has already been sent to the south and we are concerned,” chemical engineer at the MoT quality control laboratory, Ahmed Salahdine, said.

There were enough particles of iron to cause health problems, he explained.

Dr Hussein al-Shakarchi at the al-Fayha general hospital in Baghdad told IRIN that they had received cases where symptoms may be linked to iron intoxication, but more detailed laboratory tests were being conducted.

“Nearly 20 patients have been reported with the same symptoms of intoxication and two cases were confirmed to be caused by iron dust,” he said.

But the iron particles in the wheat may have entered the grain in Iraq. The wheat is processed in country at milling facilities where it is turned into flour.

Six shipments totaling one million mt of Australian wheat remain stranded in vessels off the southern Iraqi port of Umm Qasr, awaiting clearance from the Iraqi government.

A spokesman for the AWB, Peter Mc Bride, told IRIN from the Australian capital, Canberra, that the wheat was tested before it left Australia and again after it arrived off the shores of Umm Qasr some two weeks earlier. He rejected the Iraqi claim that the wheat was contaminated.

“Australia has been the dominant supplier of wheat to Iraq for the last two decades and iron dust was never found in it. We are very accurate in our laboratory analysis and we are sure that our cargo was safe for consumption and our ships can be considered brand new,” he said.

Mc Bride added that they were in constant communication with the MoT in Iraq and believed a solution would be reached soon.

In the meantime, Iraqi authorities have allocated US $75 million to buy enough supplies to meet the shortage caused by the suspension of the Australian wheat.

“We hope we can resolve this soon and Iraqis can have their rations of flour [this month] without being worried about consuming it,” Basset added.

Themes: (IRIN) Health & Nutrition



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