by SUSAN MANN
A Windsor man who tried to pass off American and Mexican fruits as Ontario product was fined $1,875 in court recently after being convicted of violating an agriculture ministry regulation.
John Steven De Rose pleaded guilty in Ontario Court of Justice in Windsor in February to unlawfully misrepresenting the origin of produce while operating a fruit and vegetable market.
Justice of the Peace Susan Hoffman fined De Rose $1,500 plus a victim fine surcharge of $375 for violating a regulation under the Farm Products Grades and Sales Act. As part of that Act, vendors and distributors of farm products are responsible for ensuring their products are properly labelled to prevent misrepresentation.
De Rose was operating a fruit and vegetable market in the parking lot of Windsor’s Dorwin Plaza on June 23, 2009 when he had produce for sale in Foodland Ontario baskets that came from the United States and Mexico. De Rose had five baskets of peaches from South Carolina, 16 baskets of beefsteak tomatoes from Colorado and 17 baskets of tomatoes from Mexico displayed as product of Ontario in the Foodland baskets.
Rodger Dunlop, manager of regulatory compliance with the Ontario agriculture ministry, says produce has to be labelled with its country of origin, the product’s name and, if a grade applies, the grading information too. “The regulation is pretty specific on what they’re required to list.”
He says they get about two to three cases a year of people misrepresenting the origin of produce.
“When we do get a complaint about it we take it seriously,” he notes.
Brent Ross, a ministry spokesperson, says in a September 2009 email that inspectors can issue a Part One ticket for those who violate the Act or, when dealing with repeat offenders, they have the option of issuing a Part Three information or summons. Tickets can result in fines up to $500; information/summons involve a court appearance and can result in penalties up to $5,000.
There currently is one ongoing prosecution. Ministry policy does not permit the release of the status of a case until it’s completed. The ministry’s policy also prohibits the release of details of an incident or person charged and a summons issued under the ministry’s legislation and it won’t comment on cases before the courts.
The agriculture ministry administers the Act and its regulations while the Ministry of Natural Resources’ Agriculture Investigations Unit investigates and prosecutes those violating it. The agriculture ministry discovers violations through inspections and through complaints from the public or a competitor.
Brian Gilroy, chair of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, says his organization supports the regulations. They “give the consumer confidence that what they are buying is not being misrepresented.”
Gilroy says it’s also “good news for Ontario farmers” that the regulations are being enforced.
Foodland Ontario is an agriculture ministry consumer promotion that has been in place for 33 years. Its advertising message and the Foodland Ontario symbol are designed to encourage consumers to buy Ontario products. A 2007 study showed that 94 per cent of target consumers (adults aged 25 to 64) recognize the Foodland symbol. BF