Coles and Woolies in false fruit labelling pickle

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 13th May 2011

organic food basketSupermarket giants Coles and Woolworths have been taken to task over dodgy origin labelling, after an investigation by the NSW Food Authority revealed that two stores were selling mislabelled fruit

The incident marks the first time Coles and Woolworths have been fined for Country of Origin labelling breaches, and both have been placed on the NSW Food Authority’s Name and Shame register.

Woolworths at Newington in Sydney has been fined $1540 for advertising lemons for sale as being the “Product of Australia” when the individual products were actually from the USA. Coles at St Marys, also in Sydney, was fined $880 for displaying grapefruit for sale without a statement indicating the country of origin.

“These retailers should know better, in light of concerns over incorrect labelling the Food Authority recently issued a communiqué to NSW Local Government Council organisations and relevant food retailers reminding them of their obligations under the Food Standards Code and the Food Act in regard to country of origin labelling,” said NSW Minister for Primary Industries, Katrina Hodgkinson.

Woolworths announced the same day that it will begin labelling its ‘mix of local and imported ingredients’ fruit and vegetables with the specific countries of origin.

“From today, the small percentage of fresh fruit and vegetables that might be of a mixed origin will specify which countries the produce comes from,” said Pat McEntee, Woolworths General manager of Fresh Food. “So if a display of kiwi fruit contains both Australian and New Zealand fruit this will clearly be stated as a Product of Australia and New Zealand.”

“97 per cent of Woolworths’ fresh fruit and vegetables are grown in Australia. So while only three per cent of our produce comes from overseas we want to make it easier for our customers to know exactly where their food comes from so they can make an informed decision for their family.”

McEntee said that for individual fruit and vegetables, a mixture of imported and overseas produce may occur at the beginning and end of the Australian season.

“Like all retailers, during these few weeks we get deliveries from both domestic and overseas suppliers to meet customer demand and this may be mixed together in the same display.”

Peak horticulture body Growcom acknowledged the move as a step in the right direction, but warned that the labelling is still not totally clear.

“Thanks to Woolworths taking this voluntary step for displays of mixed fresh fruit and vegetables, consumers will be better able to make an informed choice about what they are buying,” said Growcom’s Chief Executive Officer, Alex Livingstone. “I look forward to other retailers and green grocers following suit.”

“However, even with this small improvement there will still be no way for consumers to know whether the mixes represent a 50-50 split or a 99-1 split.

“In addition, the company has not announced whether it will follow suit with the ingredients of pre-prepared fresh fruit and vegetable salads and other products made from local and imported ingredients and sold in the delicatessen section of the supermarket,” Mr Livingstone said.

Livingstone said the move by the NSW Food Authority to fine and list the two supermarkets was also a step forward.

“Hopefully, this is a sign that the authorities are acting as a result of consumers starting to report those retailers who are not doing the right thing. We hope consumers are becoming more aware that it is not only a legal requirement for retailers to label fresh produce clearly with the country of origin but also to lift their game and label produce correctly so that the label on the packaging or individual pieces of fruit or vegetable correlates with the sign on the display bin.”