EAST BRUNSWICK – The New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs and Department of Agriculture announced last week a joint effort to make consumers aware of “Jersey” produce that does not actually come from the state.
Citing a recent North Jersey case in which “Yellow NJ Corn” was offered in a grocery store circular four to six weeks before the first New Jersey-grown corn would be available, New Jersey Assistant Secretary of Agriculture Alfred W. Murray urged consumers to be aware that buying misbranded or mislabeled produce hurts New Jersey’s farmers.
“Consumers depend upon the reputation of New Jersey produce and know they’ll get great-tasting, fresh and safe products from our local farms,” Assistant Secretary Murray said during a press announcement today at the farm of Jim Giamarese, a member of the State Board of Agriculture. “Likewise, our Garden State produce growers depend on a big demand for their fresh products as each one comes into season, which helps them meet their bottom lines and continue farming.
“When someone misbrands or mislabels produce as being ‘Jersey Fresh’ or otherwise from New Jersey when it really isn’t, consumers can be fooled into buying products that really don’t come from New Jersey, our farmers are cheated out of their most important markets and New Jersey’s economy does not receive the full value of our farmers’ hard work.”
Promoting out-of-state produce as being “Jersey Fresh” or otherwise from New Jersey constitutes a misrepresentation of fact to consumers and thus violates the state’s Consumer Fraud Act, noted Thomas R. Calcagni, Acting Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs.
“Advertising or promoting out-of-state produce as being ‘Jersey Fresh’ or from New Jersey is a false statement and is misleading to consumers,” Calcagni said. “If it’s not grown here, it’s not ‘Jersey Fresh.’ We’re working with Agriculture officials to make sure sellers understand this fact and we are prepared to act against those who commit fraud against consumers.”
The Department of Agriculture has sent advisory letters to all licensees authorized to sell New Jersey agricultural products about the misbranding of products. The Department of Agriculture has inspectors who routinely visit stores, markets and other vendors checking things such as milk licenses or Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) on products. If they notice produce advertised as being from New Jersey when they know it clearly cannot be, they will report it to the Division of Consumer Affairs for action. The Division has the authority to enforce penalties up to $10,000 for an initial violation and up to $20,000 for subsequent violations.
“Consumers expect to get what they pay for when spending their hard-earned money,” Calcagni said. “And never is that more true then when it comes to the food they place on their family’s dinner table.”
In addition, the USDA’s Perishable Agriculture Commodities Act (PACA) program has the ability to enforce penalties for mislabeling and misbranding of up to $200,000 per offense.
“The Department puts a lot of effort into making consumers aware of the benefits of buying locally produced, Jersey Fresh agricultural products,” Murray said. “We want the benefits of those efforts to go to New Jersey farmers, and the wholesalers and retailers who are loyal to our farmers, not to some mislabeled product coming into the state from who knows where, maybe even a foreign country, and masquerading as Jersey produce.”
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