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A Leamington greenhouse grower was fined $210,000 Monday after federal food inspectors spent years chasing a massive paper trail that showed it was passing off Mexican grown vegetables as Canadian products.

Federal prosecutor Paul Bailey said AMCO Produce Inc. leaves Superior Court in Windsor on March 12, 2018, after AMCO was fined $210,000 for misrepresenting foreign tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers as Canadian produce.

Superior Court Justice Renee Pomerance called it an probation that required AMCO to give inspectors full access without notice to facilities and records. That includes giving inspectors access to pass codes, cards and keys to enter facilities. AMCO must also provide the Canadian Food and Inspection Agency an annual report of its activities during the probation period.

Five other charges, including two counts of fraud, were withdrawn in exchange for the guilty pleas. Charges against Amicone and Mark Wehby, another company executive, were also withdrawn when the company pleaded guilty.

The sentence came from a joint submission by Bailey and defence lawyer Patrick Ducharme, who pointed out this was the company first conviction.

Between 2012 and 2014, the company intentionally mislabelled foreign grown produce including tomatoes and cucumbers as being products of Canada. The products were sold to Sobeys Inc. and other retailers.

The case began after the Canadian Food Inspection Agency did a random inspection at the Ontario Food Terminal, a Toronto distribution centre, in February 2013. In a section reserved for Ontario produce, inspectors saw a carton of peppers. The labels on the carton stated the contents were from Ontario.

was very suspicious given the fact that it was February, Bailey said in court.

He said winter is generally for producers because it too expensive to run greenhouses in the darker, colder months. Bailey said AMCO had also failed to report it was growing peppers in the winter,
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which was a requirement.

In addition to that, said Bailey, inspectors found AMCO tomatoes labelled as products of Canada for sale in local grocery stores.

again at a time of year when local tomatoes are unlikely to be produced, he said.

Inspectors later executed search warrants and were able to use AMCO records to follow the trail of products being purchased in Mexico, then relabelled in Canada and sold here.

Mislabelling products rise to a number of dangers, said Bailey.

In the case of a foodborne illness, he said mislabelled products would make it harder to determine the source of the outbreak.

He added that if a tomato is labelled as Canadian, it might not be inspected as thoroughly as foreign produce. It could contain pests that endanger local crops or dangerous pesticides that have been outlawed in Canada.

the United States said my goodness, you shipping us tomatoes that are misrepresented as Ontario tomatoes, they be within their right to close the border, he said.

On top of that, Bailey said, it just plain unfair.

area is intensely populated with hardworking, honest vegetable growers and the profit margin is thin, said Bailey. have to compete with vegetable growers who cheat, and that just not fair to the industry. is at least the second Essex County grower to be fined for falsely labelling vegetables. In 2016, Kingsville’s Mucci Farms and two executives were fined a total of $1.5 million. was fined $210,000 for misrepresenting foreign tomatoes,
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peppers and cucumbers as Canadian produce.