06/07/2016 02:45 EDT | Updated 06/07/2016 03:59 EDT

Mucci Farms To Pay Up For Selling 'Canadian' Produce Grown In Mexico

The company says it was a mistake.

The recent news that French’s and Primo are planning to buy Canadian tomatoes for their ketchup sparked a wave of culinary patriotism among some consumers.

But are Canadian vegetables really Canadian? Maybe not for customers of a southern Ontario greenhouse, which has been slapped with a total of $1.5 million in fines for selling Mexican-grown produce as “Canadian.”

Mucci Farms of Kingsville, Ont., says it was a mistake — and presumably not an attempt to fool consumers.

The Mucci Farms operation in Kingsville, Ontario. (Google Street View)

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency alleged in 2014 that Mucci Farms had violated the law by selling mislabelled produce, and two company officials — general manager Danny Mucci and vice-president of sales Joe Spano — were slapped with criminal charges.

But many of the charges against the pair were dropped after they pleaded guilty to six regulatory violations, the Windsor Star reported Monday.

The two executives will have to pay $150,000 each, while two divisions of Mucci Farms will have to pay an additional $1.1 million.

“We take responsibility for those mistakes and have promised to make every reasonable effort to ensure that this does not occur in the future.”— Mucci Farms general manager Danny Mucci

In a press statement, Mucci Farms said investigators had “discovered some mistakes or anomalies” in company records.

“We take responsibility for those mistakes and have promised to make every reasonable effort to ensure that this does not occur in the future,” Mucci said.

With 1,200 full-time employees, Mucci Farms calls itself Kingsville's largest employer.

Food fraud is everywhere

Evidence of mislabelled food is growing, according to Sylvain Charlebois, a professor at the University of Guelph’s Food Institute.

Despite the assumption that new technologies would make it easier to track the food supply, “evidence of widespread fraudulent behaviour has increased,” Charlebois wrote earlier this year.

A 2013 study at the University of Guelph found one-third of fish sold in U.S. grocery stores are mislabelled — consistent with results seen in Canadian cities as well.

As much as a third of the fish sold in U.S. stores is mislabelled, according to research. (Getty Images)

A study carried out last year found that in one region of the U.K.,. two-thirds of “ham and cheese” pizzas contain neither ham nor cheese. The pizzas were found to be substituting turkey for ham, and a vegetable oil-based substitute for cheese.

“Chances are you have already unknowingly purchased a counterfeit food product at a restaurant, a retailer or even at a high-end specialty store,” Charlebois wrote.

“What’s more concerning is that retailers, restaurateurs serving and selling counterfeited items may not even know it.”

Charlebois says the onus is on the food industry to clean up its act, because “more inspections and regulations can only go so far.”

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