Whereas, Bill A2665 has been sent to the New Jersey Senate Economic Growth Committee and is awaiting a bill number designation; and
WHEREAS, in June 2010, while awaiting further Legislative action on this bill, the Department partnered with the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs to institute an interim program through which incidents witnessed by Department inspectors of mislabeling and/or misbranding during their routine course of work could be more effectively and efficiently reported to the Division of Consumer Affairs pending a shared enforcement that would be effectuated by the legislation mentioned above.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that we, the delegates to the 96th State Agricultural Convention, assembled in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, on February 8-9, 2011, strongly urge the New Jersey Senate Economic Growth Committee to release the misbranding bill from committee for a full Senate vote.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we strongly but respectfully urge the Senate to pass the misbranding bill for the Governor to sign, as this 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 to give the New Jersey Department of Agriculture full investigative, enforcement, and penalty authority associated with misbranding statutes.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we support and appreciate the interim cooperative effort by the Department and the Division of Consumer Affairs to foster more timely reporting and enforcement action against those who would mislabel or misbrand products as being from New Jersey when they are not.
Misbranding of New Jersey Agricultural Commodities
Each year, the NJDA receives complaints alleging that produce shipped into New Jersey from other growing regions is misbranded and sold to consumers as New Jersey product in violation of state and federal laws. The Division of Consumer Affairs’ Consumer Protection Program is charged with investigating suspected violations, but has not in the past investigated and prosecuted mislabeled and misbranded agricultural commodities as a priority area.
The NJDA has a team of inspectors in place who – in the course of their duties under commodities inspection and grading programs – routinely visit farms, wholesalers, brokers and retailers. They are already on-site and have the necessary experience to detect misbranding violations. If given the authority, these inspectors could conduct more timely investigations and issue citations more efficiently and effectively than under the current process.
For example, it is not unusual for NJDA inspectors to encounter tomatoes packed in Jersey-labeled boxes at the beginning of the season. Because of their agricultural experience, these inspectors recognize that it is too early in the season for Jersey tomatoes to be available in that quantity. Sometimes, they will see out-of-state boxes nearby, clearly indicating that the tomatoes were trucked in from out of state and repacked. These inspectors, however, are unable to take enforcement action and must instead contact Consumer Affairs.
The lack of prosecution of such mislabeling and misbranding compromises the integrity of the Jersey label and associated marketing programs, and is harmful to consumers who are not receiving the high-quality produce they have come to expect from New Jersey.
Further, New Jersey is not realizing revenues that can help support inspection efforts. Each offense results in a $500 fine, with each box of misbranded product constituting a single offense. In cases where a truckload of product is involved, the fines can be sizable.
On May 13, 2010, Assembly bill 2665 sponsored by Assemblywoman Riley, and co-sponsored by Assemblymen Milan and Albano introduced a bill that doubles the penalties for misuse of the outline of the State on packaging of farm products and other violations of Chapter 10 of Title 4 of the Revised Statutes, the law concerning labeling and identification of farm products and Department of Agriculture designated brands. These brands include “Jersey Fresh.” The bill also clarifies that, concerning violations that involve the labeling of farm products, each improperly labeled package would constitute a separate violation. Additionally, the bill gives enforcement powers to the New Jersey Department of Agriculture.
On October 14, 2010 the bill was reported out of the Assembly Committee of Agriculture and Natural Resources. On October 25, 2010 the bill passed the Assembly 77-1-0, on November 8, 2010 the bill was received by the Senate and referred to the Senate Economic Growth Committee where it is awaiting further action.
Additionally, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture worked with the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs to garner their support to help enforce misbranding violations. The two agencies have cooperated together, and held a news conference in June 2010 to announce this partnership. The agencies subsequently developed a standardized reporting form the Department’s inspectors can use when encountering misbranding/mislabeling, reducing the amount of time needed for the Division to gather further information in support of enforcing existing laws against misbranding/mislabeling.