Contaminated mint tea puts Moroccans’ health at risk

Mint, a herb that is omnipresent in every household across Morocco, has been contaminated with pesticides that do not comply with standards and regulations.
Saturday 29/06/2019
Ditching mint. A mint seller shows the quality of mint to a customer.(Saad Guerraoui)
Ditching mint. A mint seller shows the quality of mint to a customer.(Saad Guerraoui)

CASABLANCA - “Would you like tea with or without mint?” the waiter asked at a coffee shop in Casablanca. Many tea drinkers have begun to ditch mint from their teapots following a warning from the National Office for Food and Safety.

“I would rather drink black tea this time. Mint tea has become a poisonous drink,” said the customer.

Mint, a herb that is omnipresent in every household across Morocco, has been contaminated with pesticides that do not comply with standards and regulations, the National Office for Food and Safety (ONSSA) warned.

ONSSA, in a letter addressed to the prefectures of Souss-Massa-Draa and Taza–Al Hoceima-Taounate, stated that samples tested showed “very high rates” of “unregistered chemicals or high residue levels of approved products.”

Despite their use to protect crops, pesticides can cause adverse health effects, including cancer and effects on reproduction, immune or nervous systems, in humans, the World Health Organisation said.

ONSSA said that measures, including sanctions against farmers and the destruction of crops, would be taken to protect consumers from an imminent health risk.

Health experts urged Moroccans to thoroughly wash both green tea and mint to avert health risks.

In Derb Sultan neighbourhood, mint is in high demand and the sizeable number of merchants offering the herb reflects consumers’ love for the herb.

“I can’t imagine drinking tea without mint. No matter what they say, I will keep consuming it,” said Halima, as she bought a bunch of fresh mint despite hearing about the pesticide issue.

“I only have to wash it to avert the health risk,” she said.

Fatima Zahra, a mother of two children, echoed her statement. “We are fed up with this same old story which comes out once the mint becomes very good and tasty! Just wash it. Nowadays everything is full of chemicals. I’ll never give in to a nice cup of mint tea with a thick white foam on the top,” said Zahra.

Mohammed Ramil, 28, disagreed with Zahra.

“It’s at your own risk. The risk of having cancer is multiplied by consuming more products with more pesticides,” warned Ramil. “Serious controls are needed on the quality of our food. Farmers who do not comply with the regulations must be sanctioned.”

Authorities in Rabat and Marrakech destroyed fields that had been treated with unauthorised pesticides.

Wholesale markets are required to oblige producers to present the analysis results of their products.

ONSSA set out a mint safety programme aimed at controlling pesticide residues and raising awareness among producers on the danger of excessive use of chemicals.

In 2015, the European Union warned of health risks of mint imported from Morocco after detecting 0.21 grams of pesticides per kilogram of the herb. Large quantities of mint were returned to Morocco and the European Union threatened to put the country on a blacklist unless authorities acted.

Moroccan tea, a blend of mint and green tea, is the most popular hot drink among Moroccans and foreign tourists.

ONSSA warned in March that several Chinese tea brands sold in Morocco contained pesticide amounts exceeding established limits. It announced new standards regulating importing tea from China, which will go into effect in July.

In 2018, Moroccans consumed almost 78,000 tonnes of Chinese tea, nearly one-quarter of China’s total exports.

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