June 11, 2015 10:51 am
Updated: June 12, 2015 10:35 am

Poultry at major supermarkets falsely labeled as ‘organic’: lawsuit

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WATCH ABOVE: Former poultry plant worker alleges mislabeling of organic products to keep up with demand. Allegations stem from her time as a manager at Cericola Farms in Bradford. Marianne Dimain reports. 

A fired manager for a commercial poultry producer in Ontario is alleging her former employer, Cericola Farms Inc., falsified labels to say chicken products were “certified organic” before shipping the chicken to major supermarkets in Ontario and New Brunswick.

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Vashti Dalipsingh, a former Cericola operations director, says management instructed workers “to falsely label conventional chicken products as premium ‘certified organic’ products in order to fill orders and ship on schedule,” a statement from her lawyers said Thursday.

Bradford, Ont.-based Cericola terminated Dalipsingh in April after she stopped two shipments containing allegedly falsely labelled products from going out to Loblaw, Sobeys and Costco stores in the Greater Toronto Area.

UPDATE: Loblaw vows to ‘act quickly’ if supplier lied about organic poultry

Dalipsingh, who is suing Cericola for wrongful dismissal, said she became aware of the practice in January and raised the matter with management before halting the two orders.

Fired for tampering

Cericola, the second-largest producer of organic chicken in Ontario, according to Dalipsingh, fired her for “tampering with products.”

“I’d tried to stop it within, and I got fired,” Dalipsingh said in an interview.

WATCH ABOVE: Vashti Dalipsingh, an ex-manager at Cericola Farms Inc., says her former employer falsely labeled “conventional chicken products” as “premium certified organic.” 

The 43-year-old had been a manager at the poultry producer since 2012 and was promoted to director in January. Dalipsingh alleges she discovered information that showed Cericola deliberately mislabelling products dating back to August 2014.

Dorian Persaud, a lawyer for Dalipsingh, said Canadian Food Inspection Agency representatives who were on site failed to catch what the lawsuit alleges was a scheme involving Cericola’s senior management and the producer’s quality assurance department, which “facilitated the deception by falsifying records and changing code stickers to read that chicken arriving at the plant for processing was organic, when it was clearly not.”

None of the allegations have been proven. A statement from the company said it intends to “vigorously defend [itself] in court.”

“We take all reasonable measures to ensure compliance with applicable law and best practices,” the Cericola statement said.

“While the wrongful dismissal case and the associated allegations by an employee seeking financial compensation are regrettable, all of us at Cericola will continue to focus on delivery of the highest quality food products to Canadians.”

Certified ‘organic’

“Organic”-certified animals must be raised in conditions that at a minimum allow them enough space to lie down, turn around freely, stretch their limbs and allow access to daylight and fresh air, according to Canadian General Standards Board guidelines.

Certified organic meat products also generally cannot contain hormones and antibiotics. Some of the products identified by Dalipsingh as being falsely mislabeled were the Blue Goose Certified Humane chicken sold at Sobeys and Loblaw supermarkets.

MORE: What does that grocery label mean? 

According to Sobeys, “animals are raised in cage-free environments and farms that are never over-populated. All of the animals on the Blue Goose farm have access to the outdoors at all times, are never fed animal by-products and are always hormone and antibiotic-free.”

A statement released Thursday afternoon from Blue Goose said the farm company was notified by Cericola that there was “no merit” to the allegations. “Cericola provides poultry processing services to Blue Goose and other companies and is a fully licensed and federally inspected processor,” the company said.

Dalipsingh said it was unlikely Loblaw, Sobeys, Costco or other grocer clients served by Cericola would have known the products they were receiving were deliberately mislabelled.

Requests for comment from Sobeys and Costco weren’t responded to.

WATCH: Dalipsingh says she confronted her employers about their business practices and cancelled two shipments she says were deliberately and falsely labelled as organic.

jamie.sturgeon@globalnews.ca

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