Home NEWS Why is Germany boycotting strawberries from Huelva?

Why is Germany boycotting strawberries from Huelva?


12 min read: This is a guide to understanding the reasons behind the German boycott of strawberries from Huelva in Spain

A delegation of nine members of the German Bundestag, the lower house of parliament, is currently in Spain to investigate strawberry production in the province of Huelva. This region accounts for 30% of the strawberries imported by Germany, which have recently been at the center of controversy. A German platform for citizen petitions initiated a campaign urging major German retail chains not to purchase these strawberries, claiming they are grown using “stolen water.”

Amidst doubts about whether the commercial conspiracy is driven by environmental concerns or an attempt to prevent competition for cheaper Huelva strawberries against domestically produced ones, the Bundestag mission adds fuel to an ongoing conflict between the central government and the Andalucian regional government.

The dispute revolves around the irrigation plan in the Doñana National Park, an area recognized by both parties as being severely depleted of water resources. The Spanish Ministry of Ecological Transition has already warned of a potential “reputation” crisis for Huelva strawberries in other European countries. The Andalucian regional government and producers perceive this as an “attack” on national production.

What’s happening this week?

Nine members of the Bundestag’s Committee on Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety, and Consumer Protection are currently in Madrid to investigate strawberry cultivation in the Doñana National Park from the perspectives of “water scarcity” and consumer protection.

“The cultivation of strawberries is particularly intensive in the region of the Doñana National Park, one of Europe’s most important wetlands and a critical biodiversity hotspot. Due to the illegal extraction of water by agriculture, particularly for strawberry cultivation, Doñana is facing severe dehydration aggravated by persistent drought. This ongoing issue is of particular interest to the delegation and will be the focus of their discussions,” explained the German parliament in a statement.

The delegation comprises members from various political groups. The committee president and another member are from The Greens party, along with two Social Democrats from the SPD (which is politically aligned with the Spanish Socialist Party), two conservatives from the CDU (equivalent to the Spanish People’s Party), one liberal from the FDP, one representative from the far-right AfD, and a member from Die Linke, a left-wing party more progressive than the SPD.

Why are they coming?

The visit comes days after the Campact platform, similar to Change.org, launched a petition urging major German grocery chains such as Lidl and Aldi not to sell strawberries from Huelva. The petition titled “Stop the theft of water for cheap strawberries!” has garnered over 162,000 signatures of support.

A commercial boycott by Germany would impact the primary destination for strawberry exports from Spain, accounting for 33% of exports to the rest of Europe, which represents 30% of the total production. The strawberry sector contributes 11.3% to the GDP of Huelva, creates 100,000 direct jobs, and 160,000 indirect jobs, and produces 98% of red fruits cultivated in Spain and 30% in the EU.

Who will they meet with?

The German parliamentarians will begin their day with a meeting with the Secretary of State for the Environment, Hugo Morán, at the Ministry of Ecological Transition headquarters. The ministry clarified on Sunday that they had no involvement in the Bundestag’s visit and that the meeting with Morán was solely at the request of the delegation members.

“The visit is an initiative of the German Parliament, the Bundestag, which has independently promoted and organized it,” stated the ministry to dispel any suspicions of coordination. “The Ministry of Ecological Transition does not evaluate initiatives from the Parliament of a member state of the EU, nor do we express an opinion on whether it is appropriate for such a visit to take place during an electoral period,” they added in a statement to the media. On Monday, the Andalucian regional government accused the Spanish government of using the Bundestag visit as a “platform for the boycott” of the strawberry campaign promoted by a German consumer association.

Subsequently, they will travel to Seville, where they will meet with the Vice-Counselor for the Environment of the Andalucian regional government, Sergio Arjona. They will then visit Doñana accompanied by the Directors-General of the Andalucian regional government for Protected Natural Spaces, José Enrique Borrallo, and for the Park, Juan Pedro Castellanos.

In addition, the German parliamentarians will hold meetings with representatives of environmental protection organizations, farmers’ associations, as well as scientists, representatives of political foundations, and farms.

Why does it generate so much political controversy?

The visit of the Bundestag delegation is expected to further strain the relationship between the central government and the Andalucian regional government in a dispute that originated from the Andalucian plan to expand irrigation – using surface water, when available, instead of groundwater – in the Doñana National Park and the Northern Crown, which already erupted during the campaign for the May 28 elections and, as it seems, will continue until the general elections on July 23.

It all began in early April when the Popular Party (PP) and Vox in the Andalucian Parliament decided to resume the processing of a proposed law that had already lapsed before last year’s elections, which granted an absolute majority to Juanma Moreno. According to the Third Vice President, Teresa Ribera, the Andalucian president assured her that it would not be reintroduced. The central government strongly opposed this initiative, arguing that it is a “deception” because there is no water available, it causes environmental harm, and it puts Spain in the crosshairs for potential fines imposed by the European Commission, which has also vehemently opposed the proposed law, due to a 2021 conviction for the poor state of the Doñana Park.

After May 28 – when the PP won or gained ground in the area affected by the irrigation plan and where strawberries are cultivated – several expected actions have not yet materialized. On the one hand, the regional government has not withdrawn the plan; instead, they have resumed its processing, which was put on hold during the elections. It also remains to be seen whether Brussels will ultimately impose fines on Spain.

What does the Government say? And the regional government?

One of the warnings issued by the central government to the regional government regarding the irrigation plan is the potential “reputation” damage that promising further exploitation of water resources could have on the commercialization of strawberries in European countries with a special environmental sensitivity. When the commercial boycott began to gain momentum in Germany last week, both Ribera and President Pedro Sánchez posted messages on their social media accounts that somewhat justified the Campact petition, highlighting the determination of the regional government to proceed with the irrigation plan.

“Denialism ruins our environment and runs the risk of ruining local economies. Let’s save Doñana,” tweeted Sánchez. “Alert among German consumers who threaten to boycott Spanish strawberries,” wrote Ribera. On Sunday, the Ministry explicitly expressed support for the producers, which was not stated the previous week. “The Ministry supports and defends all legal farmers who are now threatened by a reputational crisis generated by Moreno Bonilla’s reckless policies. Strawberry farmers should not be criminalized.”

The regional government accused Sánchez and Ribera of aligning themselves with the “hoaxes” that are being spread in Germany against strawberries from Huelva. Moreno accused the government of maintaining an “irresponsible attitude” because, instead of standing up for their country, they “attack Huelva,” which he considered “completely insane.” He demanded an end to giving credibility to hoaxes, speaking ill of Huelva and Andalusia, and attacking a productive sector, just a few days ago. What about strawberry producers?

Amidst all the controversy, strawberry and red fruit producers from Huelva defended themselves last week in a statement that aimed to debunk the “hoaxes” of the “insidious and damaging” campaign circulating in Germany. They called for restraint from politicians in their public statements. “In the face of some expressions of support for the initiative, we appeal to the responsibility of authorities and public administrations to act with caution in the interest of the common good. We demand that any comments be based on accurate information and technical knowledge.”

On Monday, May 5, ahead of the imminent visit of the German parliamentarians to Andalucia, Interfresa invited them to visit the strawberry and red fruit crops “to personally witness the legal and efficient use of water in the sector.” They highlighted that “100%” of the fruits imported to Germany are certified with the ‘Spring’ label, which guarantees “the legal, efficient, and responsible water management used for irrigation.” Among the supermarkets now being targeted for the commercial boycott are Rewe, Aldi, Lidl, Edeka, and Kaufland, among others.

Last week, the Interfresa association dismissed as “false” the information accusing the sector of “serious shortcomings and illegal actions.” They dissociated the irrigation law in Doñana from their activities and emphasized investments in water efficiency. In Doñana, they assure that there are no crops of any kind, and the closest ones have located 35 kilometres away from the natural park, mostly in the Northern Crown region – the focal point of the regional irrigation plan – at a distance of 100 kilometres.

Interfresa also emphasizes that the claim made by the German petition that supermarkets import strawberries year-round, even in winter, is false. “The bulk of the campaign takes place from February to June. Therefore, strawberries from Huelva are marketed nationally and internationally during this time of year.”

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