WHEREAS, the New Jersey Assembly introduced and passed a bill during 2009 which prohibits mislabeling and misbranding of farm products and directs the Secretary of Agriculture to investigate and enforce violations, and includes increases in penalties for certain violations; and
WHEREAS, the bill was sent to the New Jersey Senate Economic Growth Committee; and
WHEREAS, the bill was in the Senate Economic Growth Committee at the end of the most recent legislative session, and thus will need to be reintroduced.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that we, the delegates to the 95th State Agricultural Convention, assembled in East Brunswick, New Jersey, on February 9, 2010, urge both houses of the Legislature to pass, and the Governor to sign, these bills as the legislation expands statutory responsibilities for investigation and enforcement regarding instances of misbranding of agricultural products in New Jersey to include not only the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs but also the New Jersey Department of Agriculture.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we urge the Legislature to give the Department full investigative, enforcement, and penalty authority associated with misbranding statutes.
Each year, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture receives complaints alleging that produce shipped into New Jersey from other growing regions is misbranded and sold to consumers as a New Jersey product in violation of state and federal law. Misbranding is a practice that adversely affects the profitability of all New Jersey farmers, especially in cases that affect the Jersey Fresh label, which is recognized by consumers to indicate the highest quality.
Currently, under New Jersey and federal Law, it is illegal to misbrand any article of food. The Consumer Protection Program of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs (NJDCA) is charged with the responsibility to investigate suspected violations; and the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act (PACA) Office is charged to investigate violations as they pertain to federal law.
Previously, the NJDCA has not investigated and prosecuted mislabeled and misbranded agricultural commodities as a priority focus area. The lack of prosecution of such mislabeling and misbranding not only compromises the integrity of the label and associated marketing programs, but also is harmful to the consumers who are not receiving the high quality produce they have come to expect from New Jersey.
In light of recent national outbreaks of foodborne illnesses associated with fresh produce, food safety issues have moved to the forefront of national importance. The ability to quickly and effectively trace suspected items back to their source is paramount in containing widespread contamination.
The Department has a team of inspectors in place, who in the course of their duties, routinely visit farms, wholesalers, brokers and retailers, and if given the authority, could conduct more timely investigations and issue violations more efficiently and effectively than under the current process.