OZblu blueberry seizures: South Africa's Ross Berries denies wrongdoing, accuses United Exports of intimidation
Ross Berries, the South African company accused by Australia-based United Exports of illegally shipping OZblu blueberries to the EU, has denied any wrongdoing.
Two shipments of the fruit were seized by Dutch customs over recent weeks, with United Exports saying Ross Berries did not have the authorization to grow and export its proprietary fruit. The first was in late October and the second in early November.
Ross Berries claimed in a statement on Thursday there is no evidence of unlawful activity on its part and accused the global license holder of OZblu blueberries of trying to intimidate South African growers "with a view to controlling the blueberry market".
"Instead of United instituting legal proceedings in Holland to prove that the seizure of Ross Berries’ fruit holds any merits, United Exports has instead asked for a ten-day extension from the Dutch Customs Authority, knowing that the 26 tons of blueberries have a limited shelf life," said the statement from Ross Berries.
"United Exports missed the 9 November deadline to provide evidence in the case in which it claims Ross Berries exported the blueberries without a licence. The question remains, if United Exports had reason to stop the shipments in the first place, why can they now not produce the evidence in court? The answer is that this is simply bullying tactics by a global company that seeks to use its clout to squash farmers. It is expected that United will continue to delay the adjudication of the validity of its more than 15 varieties sold to farmers in South Africa."
Ross Berries claims it has tried to reach an amicable agreement, offering to offer that if the berries can be released and sold, the income could be placed into a trust account until the dispute is resolved. But it says this offer was declined.
"Ross Berries unequivocally states that we have not conducted ourselves unlawfully in respect of any of the OzBlu varieties and have acted on the advice of our extended legal team," it said.
"To the contrary, the seizure of the blueberries by the Dutch Customs authority was unlawful, and nothing other than an attempt by United Exports to intimidate blueberry growers and exporters in South Africa with a view to controlling the blueberry market in South Africa."
It added: "Ross Berries believes in transparency and abiding by the law. We will not stand by while the blueberry industry is destroyed, and with it the livelihoods of the farmers, farm workers and their families. This issue has a ripple effect on the whole fruit industry."