Ivory Coast is investigating how two shipments of cocoa beans exported last month became infested by insects causing the receiving country, Brazil, to suspend imports from the world's top grower, an official with the country's marketing board said.
A Brazilian agriculture official told Reuters last week that the shipments, which totaled 10,000 tonnes, lacked the usual documents showing they had been fumigated after loading into the ships' hulls, as required under Brazil's regulations.
"This is an exceptional case. Ivory Coast exports more than a million tonnes (annually). This has never happened," an official with the Coffee and Cocoa Council said on Tuesday, adding that she was not aware of the ban on imports, Reuters reported.
"We as an agency are trying to understand why 10,000 tonnes left without this document, which should have accompanied the cargo. We are working to understand at what level things didn't function," said the official, who asked not to be named.
Brazilian authorities said there was no record of any previous shipments imported from Ivory Coast containing insects, however the country's agriculture authorities have temporarily suspended imports pending the Ivorian investigation.
"Until it is proven that the produce coming from Ivory Coast is in conformity with Brazil's phytosanitary requirements, (the import of) produce coming from this country is suspended," an agriculture ministry press officer told Reuters.
Brazil's cocoa development agency, Ceplac, said there were four or five kinds of insects found in samples from the shipments, all of which were also common in Brazil. None were pests found on cocoa plantations or a threat to Brazil's own production.
Manfred Muller, a technical coordinator at Ceplac, said the agency would evaluate whether the fumigation had been successful and whether the level of infestation was below the threshold that restricts the cocoa's use or requires it to be incinerated.
Local media reported that Nestle's Brazilian division was the buyer of 4,000 tonnes of the infested cocoa, while the remaining 6,000 tonnes had been purchased by U.S.-based food processer Cargill.
Brazil, the world's sixth-ranked cocoa producer, also imports around 60,000 tonnes of beans annually for processing into cocoa products and confectionary for local consumption and for export. The country was the No. 2 ranked producer until the early 1990s when the fungal disease witch's broom decimated production.
Ivory Coast last season produced over 1.5 million tonnes of cocoa, a record harvest it achieved despite a brief civil war that shut down exports for several months. It is also the world's top grinder of beans.