From the duh files: ‘People are being duped’ at Canadian farmers markets

Some farmers market vendors push bogus homegrown stories to consumers looking for fresh local fruits and veggies — and Marketplace has the hidden camera footage to prove it.

The Marketplace team went undercover at 11 bustling markets across Ontario this summer to ask vendors where their produce comes from and then tested the veracity of those claims using surveillance and other investigative techniques.

The results suggest many consumers could be paying premium prices for produce with fake backstories about where it was grown.

At four of the markets, the investigation exposed five different vendors who claimed to be selling fresh produce they had grown themselves but who were actually cashing in by reselling wholesale goods purchased elsewhere.

At a fifth market, the team discovered a vendor passing off Mexican produce as Ontario-grown.

Most of the markets Marketplace visited had vendors known as resellers, who sell produce they didn’t grow. They purchase wholesale fruits and vegetables from places such as the Ontario Food Terminal in Toronto — Canada’s largest wholesale market — and take it to farmers markets to sell for a profit.

When asked directly, many resellers were upfront about the fact they didn’t grow the produce, but others were not.

Lauren Nurse, who farms 6 ½ acres in Stirling, Ont., relies on farmers markets as a source of income. She says this kind of behaviour undermines the industry.

“People are being duped,” she says. “There’s no difference between food that you buy at the grocery store and food at the farmers market if it all comes from the food terminal.”

At the Peterborough Farmers’ Market, one of the largest and longest running in Ontario, Marketplace identified two resellers making misleading claims about their products.

The largest of these vendors, Kent Farms, operates two different stalls at the market. One is run by James Kent, and the other by Brent Kent.

They say they’re third generation farmers and have properties northeast of Toronto in Newcastle, Orono and Lindsay.

They told undercover Marketplace journalists that most of the produce they were selling was grown on their family farms, or was from neighbouring properties.

Marketplace started digging after noticing the cucumbers Brent Kent claimed to have grown were labelled with stickers from a large multinational corporation that grows greenhouse vegetables 500 kilometres away in Kingsville, Ont., located south of Windsor on the northwestern shore of Lake Erie.

To determine where the Kents were getting the rest of their produce, Marketplace followed a Kent Farms truck the day before the Peterborough market.

Long before dawn, the truck drove 100 kilometres from James Kent’s property in Newcastle to the Ontario Food Terminal in Toronto. There, the journalists witnessed James Kent and his employees loading their truck with more than 50 boxes of produce including peppers, zucchinis, strawberries and radishes.

At market the next day, James and Brent Kent were seen unloading boxes that looked to be the same as those from the terminal. Staff at Brent Kent’s stall peeled stickers off peppers and James Kent transferred vegetables from wholesale boxes to farm bushels.

When undercover Marketplace journalists asked about the zucchinis, James Kent said: “They’re mine.” He also claimed the radishes were from his neighbour “across the field.”

“He buys all my strawberries,” he said. “The last thing I can do is say no to him when he sells me some radishes.”

Brent Kent said he grew the peppers that Marketplace filmed having their stickers removed earlier that day.

‘Believe in transparency’

Both James and Brent Kent declined to be interviewed.

In an emailed statement, James Kent said they “believe in transparency” and are committed to their customers. He said he grows some of what he sells and purchases some Ontario produce at the food terminal because he believes it’s a “benefit to consumers to provide products from other regions of Ontario.”

Marketplace found four more examples of vendors at markets in Burlington, Gravenhurst, Orillia and Toronto who weren’t clear or upfront about what they were selling.

A vendor at the Burlington Mall Farmers’ Market southwest of Toronto told undercover Marketplace journalists that the tomatoes he was selling were from his farm, which he said is called Koornneef. But Koornneef Produce is actually a large wholesaler that only sells produce at the Ontario Food Terminal.

Tex-Mex theft: $1.2M in stolen fajitas prompts employee’s arrest at Texas juvie center

This ranks up there with the great maple syrup theft in Canada a couple of years ago.

Josh Hafner of USA Today reports a Texas juvenile center employee confessed to stealing shipments of fajitas over nine years, a district attorney said, a theft totaling $1.2 million.

The Tex-Mex mystery unfolded on Aug. 7 when an 800-pound delivery of fajitas arrived at the Cameron County Juvenile Justice Department in San Benito, The Brownsville Herald reported, about 10 miles north of the Mexico border.

There was only one problem, a kitchen staffer told the delivery driver: The department didn’t serve fajitas. That’s when the driver said he had been delivering fajitas to the center for nearly a decade, District Attorney Luis V. Saenz said.

“If it wasn’t so serious, you’d think it was a Saturday Night Live skit,” Saenz told the Herald. “But this is the real thing.”

The kitchen staffer told her supervisor about the call, and the missing piece fell into place: Gilberto Escamilla, a department employee, had taken that day off. When confronted at work the next day, he confessed to stealing fajitas for the past nine years, Saenz told the newspaper.

Officers later searching his home found fajitas in the refrigerator. Escamilla made bail following his firing and arrest, but a trail of invoices and vouchers led investigators to the shockingly spicy conclusion: Escamilla’s fajitas fraud totaled $1,251,578, per the Herald.

“He would literally, on the day he ordered them, deliver them to customers he had already lined up,” Saenz said.

Organic BS: Hucksters make a buck, plead guilty to fraud in Canada

Chapman and I toured southern Ontario tomato farms and processors 16 years ago, and shot youtube video, but youtube didn’t exist, so we didn’t know what to do with the video.

Here it is.

Trevor Wilhelm of the Windsor Star reports that bankrupt Maidstone tomato processing company received a controversial $3- million provincial grant is expected to plead guilty next month to purposely mislabelling products as organic.

An order signed by a Toronto judge states that William (Bill) Thomas, owner of Thomas Canning, has agreed to plead guilty on behalf of the company and pay a $40,000 fine. In exchange, several other charges against the company and Thomas himself will be withdrawn.

The judge’s order states the guilty plea must be entered no later than Nov. 23. Thomas’s next scheduled court appearance in Windsor is Nov. 6.

The guilty plea and $40,000 fine is part of a joint submission from prosecution and defence lawyers. But the judge’s order states the court is not bound by that submission.

According to documents previously filed in Ontario court by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Thomas and his company are accused of 11 offences in contravention of the Food and Drug Act, the Consumer Packaging Act and the Canada Agricultural Products Act.

Thomas Canning and its owner are accused of labelling regular canned tomato products as organic.

The company and Thomas were also charged with falsifying the country of origin on their products between September 2013 and July 2015, passing off American tomato products as Canadian with labels that read “Product of Canada.”

Thomas was also charged personally with lying to a federal food inspector on Jan. 8, 2015, about canned tomato paste sold under the brand Tree of Life.

The company’s website, which is no longer accessible, previously stated that Thomas Canning charged a 20 per cent premium for organic products.

Thomas Canning received a $3-million grant from the province in 2014 to build a new fruit and vegetable processing facility. The plant was never built.

Farmers planted additional crops, signing contracts with Thomas Canning to supply tomatoes to the new plant. Those additional tomatoes rotted in the field.

Before the company went into receivership earlier this year, nine farmers were suing Thomas Canning for $2.85 million for reneging on contracts to grow tomatoes in 2016.

The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs has said it’s fine with the way Thomas Canning used the money. The ministry said the money was used to create and retain jobs, rebrand its Utopia products and open up markets in Nigeria and China.

After receiving the $3 million, Thomas Canning went bankrupt. That process is still winding its way through court.

‘Pure greed’ UK couple who faked holiday sickness are jailed

A couple have been jailed for making fake holiday sickness claims in a landmark case.

Liverpool Crown Court heard Deborah Briton, 53, and partner Paul Roberts, 43, tried to claim compensation by stating they and their two children had fallen ill on holidays to Majorca in 2015 and 2016.

But the couple’s social media showed posts where they boasted of holidays full of “sun, laughter and fun”, reports the Daily Mail.

Briton sobbed as she was sentenced to nine months in prison after admitting four counts of fraud in the private prosecution, brought by holiday company Thomas Cook.

Roberts, who was sentenced to 15 months after admitting the same offences, cried and shook in the court throughout the hearing.

The court heard the couple, from Wallasey, Wirral, tried to claim nearly £20,000 ($33,800) for the fake gastric illnesses and would have also cost the holiday firm a further £28,000 ($47,323) in legal expenses had their claims been successful.

Sentencing, Judge David Aubrey QC said their claims had been a “complete and utter sham”.

He said the claims, made in August last year, must have required planning and premeditation.

He said: “Why? Pure greed. Seeking to get something for nothing.”

Food fraud: Mexican alcohol edition

To my four Canadian daughters: Pay attention.

Tourists to all-inclusive resorts in Mexico suspect they were given tainted alcohol.

Raquel Rutledge of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writes the scene at the swim-up bar at the Mexican resort where Abbey Conner was pulled listless from the pool in January was full of young tourists last month when an attorney hired by Conner’s family showed up.

It wasn’t surprising. It was a typical scene at an all-inclusive five-star resort where foreigners from both sides of the equator flock to escape their cold winters.

But as he watched, the attorney noticed something disturbing.

“They serve alcoholic drinks with alcohol of bad quality and in great amounts, mixing different types of drinks,” he wrote in his native Spanish.

That single paragraph, buried near the end of a four-page report summarizing how 20-year-old Conner drowned within a couple hours of arriving at the Iberostar Hotel & Resorts’ Paraiso del Mar, offers a possible lead in the investigation into her death.

And it could shed light on the circumstances surrounding numerous reports from others who have told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel they experienced sickness, blackouts and injuries after drinking at Iberostar and other resorts around Cancun and Playa del Carmen in recent months.

A Pewaukee family traveled to an all-inclusive resort in Playa del Carmen in January. Their two college kids wound up unconscious, face down in the pool within two hours. Twenty-year-old Abbey died.

They told the Journal Sentinel they believe they were drugged or the alcohol may have been tainted. They questioned how they could fall into a stupor so quickly. And whether they had been targeted.

Not the Sopranos: Police in Europe break up network selling illegal horse meat

Raphael Minder of The New York Times reports police in Europe have dismantled a criminal network that was selling horse meat across the Continent that was “not suitable for consumption,” arresting 66 people as part of a four-year investigation prompted by the discovery in Ireland of horse meat in burgers sold as beef.

Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, said on Sunday that all but one of the arrests had been made in Spain. But the Spanish police said in a separate statement that their part of the investigation had accounted for “a small portion of a network stretching across the whole of Europe, under the control of a Dutch citizen.”

The Dutch citizen, who has not been publicly identified and was taken into custody in April in Belgium, was described in a Europol statement as the leader of a criminal gang that had acquired horses on the Iberian Peninsula that were judged to be “in bad shape, too old or simply labeled as ‘not suitable for consumption.’ ”

The animals’ meat was processed and sent to Belgium, one of the European Union’s biggest exporters of horse meat, and the criminal organization modified the animals’ microchips and documentation to facilitate the fraudulent export, the statement said.

The Pan-European investigation began after a scandal over horse meat in burgers in Ireland in 2013, and it was widened to other European countries as dishes like frozen lasagna labeled as containing beef were found to have horse meat.

In addition to the arrests, the Spanish police said on Sunday that they had seized property and luxury cars, and that they had frozen bank accounts. The police in Britain, France, Italy, Portugal, Romania and Switzerland also carried out interventions, according to Europol, although the statement did not provide details.

Food fraud: Brazil bored bureaucrat mob-influenced version

Federal authorities announced Friday they’re investigating evidence that companies including JBS SA and BRF SA, the nation’s largest meat producers, bribed government officials to approve the sale and export of soiled meat. Federal police served hundreds of court orders, including more than 30 detention warrants, in what local media says is the largest police operation in the country’s history.

Police released transcripts of recorded conversations showing how agricultural inspectors were bribed, sometimes in the form of prime cuts of beef. It’s alleged that some of the meat, including sausages and cold cuts, was adulterated with ingredients including pig heads, and that suspect smells were masked by applying acid. Inspectors who refused to comply, it’s alleged, were reassigned elsewhere by the meat companies.

“It seems like magic realism,” Marcos Josegrei da Silva, the judge responsible for overseeing the so-called Weak Flesh investigation, said in a court order. “Unfortunately, it is not.”

In a statement, the Brazilian unit of Wal-Mart said it fully trusts its internal food safety procedures.

But should consumers?

The story trickled around the globe over the weekend and is now like a Brisbane downpour.

Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi said Saturday Brazil fears that it may lose foreign markets for its agricultural products.

The minister confirmed earlier media reports that the United States, the European Union and China have already requested Brazilian authorities to launch an investigation against the unscrupulous meat producers. However, none of these countries has so far announced that it was closing its market for animal products from Brazil.

On Friday, Brazil’s federal police arrested members of a major criminal group involved in trade of tainted food, mostly meat. According to police, the operation involved almost 1,100 police officers and became the country’s largest ever. The operation targeted major Brazilian meat producers selling their products both domestically and internationally.

Investigators detained a number of meat industry employees, who are suspected of bribing agriculture watchdogs to receive quality certificates for low-quality goods without proper checks. Some of those money were reportedly used to finance political parties.

Police says that the suspects also used acid and other chemicals to make the rotten meat appear fresh.

The Finnish Ministry of Agriculture and the Environment has stated it is taking the issue seriously and will investigate if spoiled meat has been brought to Finland.

In Finland, Brazilian meat has been sold in stores belonging to S Group.

Canadians trafficking $16,000 of Nutella

Josh Hafner of USA Today reports Toronto-area police announced Friday that they had arrested suspects tied to a trafficking ring of drugs, stolen cars and a truckload of the rich, hazelnutty goodness that is Nutella.

nutella“Yes, I said Nutella,” confirmed Det. Sgt. Paul LaSalle, per the Toronto Star.

An elaborate sting dubbed “Project Cyclone” resulted in York Regional Police divvying 137 charges between 23 suspects, the Star reported, including 60-year-old Balwinder Dhaliwal – the so-called “King of Car Thieves” once profiled on the History channel’s Mastermind series.

In the process, police recovered stolen goods totaling roughly 3.75 million U.S. dollars, including 60 vehicles, $149,000 worth of loose cash and assorted amounts of heroin and cocaine. Also found: a trailer chock-full of that creamy spread of the gods, Nutella.

LaSalle said he wasn’t surprised by the stash of chocolatey breakfast bliss, which amounted to about $16,300 in U.S. currency.

 “I’ve never seen an investigation that did spiral into so many directions,” he said, according to the Star.

A spike in car thefts led to the investigation beginning in 2015, around the time that a new body shop named Benefit Motors opened in the nearby suburb of Vaughan.

Police grew suspicious of the business and eventually tracked two luxury cars to the shop that were left running in the same driveway to warm up, YorkRegion.com reported.

Police said the thieves targeted mostly luxury cars from brands such as Lamborghini, Maserati and Porsche. Once stolen, the thieves made fake papers for them and changed their identification numbers before reselling them, authorities explained.

“If someone in the criminal world wanted a cheap and nice ride, they came to see the Dhaliwals,” LaSalle said, according to the Star.

Unloading the filched Nutella proved a less complicated affair: Thieves sold the jars of nutty blessedness for about half their market value, YorkRegion.com reported.

Food fraud: UK unit may get more powers

The UK National Food Crime Unit (NFCU) should be given additional powers and resources to boost its ability to tackle food crime and protect consumers, a review has recommended.

horse-food-fraud-simpsonsCarried out by officials from the Food Standards Agency (FSA) under the oversight of an independent steering group, the findings are to be considered by the FSA Board at its next meeting on Wednesday 23 November.

The NFCU was set up in 2014 in the wake of the horsemeat incident, when beef was supplemented by cheaper horsemeat in a large-scale fraud across Europe. It was agreed that a review of the NFCU would take place after two years.

This follows implementation of the first phase of the unit’s work which has involved building the intelligence and evidence picture of the risks and the nature of food fraud and food crime in the UK.

The review recommends that the NFCU is made an arms-length body of the FSA, with investigatory powers, providing the agility and freedom to make day-to-day law enforcement decisions.  Currently, the unit has no investigatory powers and instead works with partners including local authorities and the police to tackle food crime.

If the FSA Board accepts the review’s recommendation, the next stage is to develop a business case and consult with other government departments on more detailed delivery options. There will also need to be in depth consultation with devolved governments and stakeholders in Wales and Northern Ireland, to ensure that a future NFCU takes into account devolved enforcement arrangements and the need for local political accountability. This further work would be completed by the end of March 2017.