By Nathan Morley [Cyprus Mail] 19 March 2009 – COMMERCE Minister Antonis Paschalides is looking into a humiliating blunder by a leading EU supermarket chain after it sold tons of Israeli fruit as “Produce of Cyprus”, he said yesterday.
German-owned Aldi were left red-faced when they admitted to the Cyprus Mail that they had effectively misled thousands of Irish consumers by falsely labeling Israeli grapefruit as Cypriot produce.
Paschalides said yesterday he was looking into a report prepared by the Cyprus Embassy in Dublin about the deception.
Some Irish consumers even said they would boycott Cyprus produce until they knew it was genuinely Cypriot. The prospect could be damaging for Cypriot citrus growers.
“I have heard about this and have received the reports which I will study and am looking into the matter. I take these reports very seriously and will act accordingly,” Paschalides told the Cyprus Mail yesterday.
In a new twist yesterday, a photo was sent through from Ireland showing a box of “easy peelers” pink grapefruit on sale at Irish supermarket giant Dunnes Stores. The label under the box says “Cyprus” but the individual fruit have Jaffa stickers on them, which clearly identifies them Israeli produce.
A spokesman at Dunnes Stores yesterday told the Cyprus Mail there was no one there to comment.
Sotos A. Liassides, the Cypriot Ambassador to Dublin, told the Cyprus Mail on Tuesday that the Aldi “blunder” had been corrected, but added that he would be keeping a close eye on the situation.
“Yes they have removed it. This has also been confirmed by my sources. The good news is that you can find genuine Cypriot grapefruit at shops such as Tesco, and you will see the colour is a little more yellow, and of course it is not marked Jaffa,” he said.
On learning of the Aldi blunder, Liassides sent an urgent report to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and to the Ministry of Commerce in Nicosia.
The EU states that the control of correct labelling is the task of member states’ national control authorities such as food inspection bodies or market surveillance authorities.
Aldi apologised to its customers two weeks ago after Irish shoppers uncovered the scam, which Aldi called a “packaging error”. The chain blamed the supplier, who is understood to be in Israeli company.
One such consumer, Tommy Donlan, took a series of photographs of the grapefruit, which showed those packages labelled “Cyprus Produce” still had tiny circular stickers on the exterior of the fruit marked “Carmel”- a citrus region of Israel.
“Aldi knew what they were doing and that is trying to shift unwanted Israeli stock as being from Cyprus,” Donlan said.
The decision to pass off the Israeli fruit as Cypriot appears to have come after a widespread boycott of Israeli goods in the aftermath of Israel”s invasion into Gaza in December.
Since then, shoppers across Ireland especially, have been turning their backs on Israeli products such as fruit, vegetables and electronics.
Reports in the Israeli press this week said some 20 per cent of the country”s exports had been affected by the boycott.