Russia mulls banning Moroccan tomatoes over safety concerns

MOROCCO – The Russian Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance has announced that it was considering a ban on tomatoes and other vegetables imported from Morocco over food safety concerns.

Sergey Dankvert, the head of Rosselkhoznadzor, in an interview with Russian news agency TASS said that the move by the Russian authorities was in an effort to prevent infected tomatoes and vegetables from morocco from entering the Russian market.

According to the Russian surveillance institution, some Moroccan vegetables, most-notably tomatoes, are infected with the Pepino mosaic virus whose symptoms include small yellow spots on the crops, as well as mottling.

The virus can be dangerous due to its high transmissibility as it can spread rapidly to other healthy plants and manage to go unnoticed for a long period of time.

Dankvert announced his organization is planning to hold a video conference with his Moroccan counterparts to inform them of the situation on the ground and urge them to eradicate it.

“We will warn our colleagues from Morocco that their produce risks being banned if they do not start working more effectively against tomato viruses,” the Russian official said.

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Russian authorities have in the recent past been very keen on the quality of fresh produce entering the country and earlier this month, they imposed a ban on Azerbaijani tomatoes for the same reason.

“Any country exporting products to Russia is not immune from restrictions in the event of food safety violations,” Dankvert announced.

However, the Russian official expressed willingness to assist exporting countries to improve their infection monitoring.

For Morocco, he suggested that local agricultural authorities identify where infections are spread in order to contain viruses.

“We invite representatives [from Morocco] to work according to the principle of regionalization, that is, provide information on which regions are clean of the virus and which are not,” Dankvert said.

“Until they do, and if the situation continues to deteriorate, we will be forced to impose a ban,” he warned.

If a ban is imposed, it could heavily impact the Moroccan-Russian trade balance.

According to Russia Today, Morocco is the third-largest tomato exporter to Russia, behind Azerbaijan and Turkey.

Morocco is also a major tomato exporter on a global scale. In 2019, the Maghreb country exported 588,000 tonnes of tomatoes to other countries, making it the forth largest exporter of the produce in the world.

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