The Moroccan strawberry industry faces unfair criticism from Spain

On March 4, 2024, a health alert was raised through the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) after Spanish authorities reported detecting the hepatitis A virus in strawberries imported from Morocco. This incident has sparked controversy in both Spanish and Moroccan media and has been used in a smear campaign against Moroccan producers, according to Amine Bennani, President of the Moroccan Association of Soft Fruit Producers.
Bennani describes a tumultuous week following the RASFF alert: “Upon receiving the Spanish notification, ONSSA (the Moroccan health authorities) promptly identified the implicated grower and packing station through a robust tracing system. Extensive sampling was conducted at every stage of fruit handling, from seed to packing, with all samples testing negative for hepatitis A and norovirus.”
He continues, “ONSSA went further by mandating testing for these viruses across all Moroccan production starting Wednesday. Samples from farms and packing stations were swiftly analyzed, revealing no traces of either virus.”
“We do not doubt the Spanish authorities’ notification,” Bennani explains. “It may be an accidental, isolated incident, possibly due to contamination by an ill worker during transport. However, there is no evidence of widespread contamination, not even at a single farm or packing station.”
While the producers’ association acknowledges the Spanish notification, it accuses the Spanish media and producers of launching a smear campaign against the Moroccan industry. Bennani notes, “Immediately after the RASFF alert, Spanish media and industry representatives seized the issue, organizing TV programs, demonstrations, and even using the incident to justify past attacks on Moroccan trucks. The Moroccan strawberry industry is clearly the target of a Spanish smear campaign. Given the speed at which this campaign is unfolding, one wonders if it wasn’t premeditated.”
However, Bennani reassures, “We are conducting business as usual. Our customers continue to trust us, recognizing the diligence of Moroccan authorities and ONSSA. Many European, Gulf, and other customers have tested last week’s shipments and found no contamination.”
At week’s end, a new development added to the controversy. The contaminated batch was allegedly imported by a company based in Huelva, revealing a practice criticized in both Spain and Morocco: the rebranding of Moroccan strawberries as Spanish. Bennani remarks, “If true, it’s a practice we neither endorse nor support. We advocate for greater traceability and better promotion of Moroccan origin.”
He concludes, “It’s telling how this detail reflects the mindset of our Spanish counterparts, who appreciate the quality of Moroccan strawberries until unfounded accusations surface.




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