CFIA investigating after lawsuit alleges poultry falsely labelled as 'organic'
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says it is investigating allegations that an Ontario poultry producer has falsely labelled chicken products as organic.
A former employee at Cericola Farms Inc. is alleging in court documents that the company has falsely labelled conventional chicken products as certified organic and antibiotic-free, in order to fill shipments for large Canadian grocery chains.
In a statement of claim filed late last month, Vashti Dalipsingh claims that Cericola Farms Inc. has been falsely labelling some chicken products as certified organic for at least eight months before the time she was fired, on April 30, 2015. She is suing for wrongful dismissal.
In a statement to CTV Toronto Thursday, Cericola Farms said the allegations made by Dalipsingh “are frivolous and vexatious, and we intend to vigorously defend our company in court.”
The company said its food products are “of the highest quality” and its facilities are routinely reviewed by the CFIA and the Centre for Systems of Integration.
“We take all reasonable measures to ensure compliance with applicable law and best practices,” the company said.
In a statement Thursday, a spokesperson for the CFIA said the agency is “aware” of the allegations against Cericola Farms “and is investigating.”
“It is important to note that most organic labelling infractions are not food safety concerns,” Rod Lister said. “The CFIA takes all allegations of mislabelling seriously.”
Labelling requirements for organic products are listed on the CFIA’s website.
Dalipsingh claims that the Bradford, Ont., poultry packaging plant falsely labelled the products when it ran out of its own supply of organic and antibiotic-free poultry and needed more in order to fill shipments for major clients, including Loblaws and Costco.
Dalipsingh, 43, also alleges in her claim that Cericola has been falsely labelling chicken products as antibiotic and animal by-product free ("AABF") for at least five months before she was fired, in order to fill shipments that exceeded the company's available supply.
None of the allegations have been proven in court. A statement of defence has not yet been filed by the company.
Cericola is a major producer and grower of poultry, both conventional as well as organic and antibiotic-free.
According to the statement of claim, Dalipsingh was hired by Cericola in December 2010 as a yield specialist. She took on the position of director of operations at the plant starting in 2012.
As the director of operations, it was her responsibility to oversee the timely shipment of products to GTA grocery stores and warehouses.
She alleges in her claim that she let the company know that she objected to the false labelling of the chicken products and cancelled two shipments that had been deliberately labelled as organic.
And in response, she says the company accused her of tampering with products, and then terminated her employment.
"The Defendant falsely accused her of tampering with products, failed to conduct an investigation, failed to call the police to conduct an investigation for product tampering, as suggested by Ms. Dalipsingh, and then terminated her employment," according to the court document.
Dalipsingh also alleges that she became aware of the false labelling practice in 2014, as demand for the company's organic and AABF chicken increased.
She alleges in her claim that the practice was done on the "express instructions" of a company director and a director of sales.
According to the statement of claim, she first brought up the issue herself “in and around November or December 2014,” and she re-iterated her concerns on several occasions between January to April 2015.
On April 16, Dalipsingh said she recalled an order of mislabelled chicken that was enroute to a Loblaws warehouse. She also cancelled another shipment that was set to be delivered to Costco.
Then on April 24, she was sent home from work early without any explanation after it was discovered that someone had tampered with chicken products that were set to be shipped out, the claim states.
The following day, Dalipsingh claims she met with the director of sales, who told her that three employees had seen her poking holes in the product packaging. Dalipsingh denied the accusations and asked for an investigation into the matter. Also according to the statement of claim, she met again with the director and the company’s chief financial officer on May 1, where she was told her employment was terminated "without reasonable notice."
In the court document, she claims the company never launched an investigation, and she was told that if she told anyone about the labelling practice she'd be jailed.
Dalipsingh says she has not been successful in trying to secure another comparable job since she was fired from Cericola.