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Working Towards Food Safety and Animal Health in Morocco


Animal diseases can now be faster detected in Morocco with the help of a technical cooperation project. (Photo: Petr Pavlicek/IAEA)

An IAEA technical cooperation project[1] supported by the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture, has greatly enhanced the capacities of Morocco’s national veterinary laboratories to detect veterinary drug residues and animal diseases. The project, initiated in January 2014 at the request of the government of Morocco, was designed to support the work of Morocco’s National Office for Food Safety (ONSSA).

Morocco’s geographical location right at the crossroad between the Mediterranean and Central Africa exposes the country to a higher risk of the introduction of animal diseases. These can threaten animal health, meat production capacity and the country’s ability to export meat products, as well as public health (considering zoonotic diseases).  Morocco urgently needed to be able to detect infectious animal diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease, bluetongue, African horse sickness and African swine fever, rapidly, including diseases with zoonotic potential such as brucellosis, tuberculosis, rabies and others. Veterinary drugs and other agrochemicals are needed to control these diseases. However, since residues of these chemicals may end up in animal products, laboratory analytical capabilities to monitor the residues and assure consumers were equally urgently required.

ONSSA was established in 2010 to support the goals of the Morocco Green Plan (Plan Maroc Vert, PMV), an agricultural strategy introduced in 2008 to combat poverty and hunger by improving national agricultural performance and output. ONSSA is responsible for national regulatory matters related to food quality and safety, as well as animal and plant health. Recent investments by the ONSSA in veterinary laboratories have aimed to enable better control of food products under the Moroccan Veterinary Drug Residue Monitoring Plan (VDRMP), which was also established under the PMV.

Although the Moroccan veterinary laboratories were equipped with real time polymerase chain reaction equipment used to detect and analyse specific pathogens’ RNA or DNA, local staff needed suitable training in order to make maximum use of the high tech equipment available.  In addition, the speed at which technologies were evolving (enabling shortening of detection time, essential for early and rapid detecting of infectious diseases), meant that personnel required training in state-of-the-art diagnostic and detection techniques. This would make it possible to significantly shorten analytical times, and increase the number and types of diseases detected. The same is applicable in the food safety area. Immediate Agency support was required for human resource development.

Through the IAEA technical cooperation project, support was provided to ensure the effective use of relevant analytical and diagnostic equipment. Laboratory personnel were trained (with the ability to train others) in veterinary drug residue testing and animal disease detection. Capacities in early detection and response to outbreaks such as avian influenza, rabies and others were also significantly strengthened.

As a result of the project, staff at the veterinary laboratories can now identify ten types of veterinary drug residues using isotope based liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (an increase from the three types that could be detected prior to the start of the project). This means that the laboratories can cover the whole range of residues including restricted substances. The liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry technique separates and detects chemicals in other substances, making it essential for residue detection and “fingerprinting”[2]. The number of accredited drug residue and animal disease detection methods used in Morocco according to the ISO 17025 standard[3] has more than doubled since 2012.

Today, the Moroccan government is able to better implement its national drug residue monitoring plan using high level analytical standards that meet international guidelines and those of major trade partners. This has enhanced food safety levels in the Moroccan market and will support plans to export poultry products.

In the field of animal health, the awareness of laboratory analysts regarding quality assurance and quality control in molecular biology analysis was greatly improved. The analysts participated in the diagnosis of the first outbreak of H9N2[4] in Morocco in early 2016.

Overall, the project has strengthened networking between laboratories, both in Morocco and internationally, that are working on chemical contaminant analysis and molecular biology diagnosis. In the long run it will contribute greatly to the country’s agricultural export possibilities, and will improve food safety and animal health.

In the long run this project will contribute greatly to Morocco's agricultural export possibilities, and will improve food safety and animal health.

Participants during a workshop on animal diseases in Morocco. (Photo: S. Darkaoui/ONSSA)


Since the introduction of the Morocco Green Plan (PMV), Morocco’s agricultural sector has experienced a remarkable transformation, with an increase in the cultivated area of 750,000 hectares, a reduction by half of malnutrition (a key MDG target for Morocco), and significant increase in agricultural production and employment[5].

Measures undertaken under the Moroccan Veterinary Drug Residue Monitoring Plan complied with the requirements of the international regulations (like the Codex Alimentarius) and those of Morocco’s main commercial partner, the European Union, and should therefore open new markets for Moroccan products.


[1] Project MOR/5/034, ‘Improving Veterinary Drug Residue Detection and Animal Disease Diagnosis with Nuclear and Molecular Techniques’.

[2] A method used to analyse DNA fragments.

[3] International Organization for Standardization’s requirements for the competence to carry out tests and/or calibrations, including sampling. 

[4] H9N2 is a type of avian influenza at the human-animal interface, meaning it can be passed on from animals to humans. It is a variety of the virus commonly known as ‘bird flu’. http://www.who.int/influenza/human_animal_interface/Influenza_Summary_IRA_HA_interface_25_02_2016.pdf.

[5] http://www.uneca.org/sites/default/files/uploaded-documents/SROs/NA/AHEGM-ISDGE/egm_ge-_morocco.pdf.

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