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ACCC accepts Spencers action to tackle oregano fraud

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By Joe Whitworth+

20-Dec-2016

ACCC said test results given to it indicated the presence of olive leaves in oregano
ACCC said test results given to it indicated the presence of olive leaves in oregano

Spencers is to have one sample of its oregano tested annually for three years by an internationally accredited lab to address adulteration concerns.  

Anchor Foods Pty trading as Spencers Gourmet Trading (Spencers) will also test random samples of other herbs and spices for three years as part of the court enforceable undertaking.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) accepted the measures following an investigation into the composition of Spencers’ oregano product.

The agency said it is continuing its investigation into other products labelled as oregano for possible breaches of Australian Consumer Law (ACL).

It took action against two retailers, Aldi and Menora , last month who must regularly test to prove products labelled as 'oregano' are what they claim to be.

Consumer focus

“Suppliers must ensure that they have a basis for any representations made about a product, including on its label or other packaging,” said Sarah Court, ACCC commissioner.

“It is crucial for consumers that labelling on food products, particularly about ingredients or composition, is accurate and truthful so they can make informed purchasing decisions.”

Choice brought the issue to the regulator's attention earlier this year after an investigation found only five of 12 tested samples were 100% oregano.

Other ingredients made up between 50% and 90% of the adulterated samples, said the consumer organisation.

The testing was by Queen’s University Belfast’s Institute for Global Food Security.

In 2015, the front and back of Spencers packaging of oregano said it contained only that ingredient.

However, test results given to the ACCC indicated the presence of olive leaves.

Spencers action

Spencers is a distributor of oregano and supplies to retailers in Western Australia. Its oregano sales volume in 2015 was 100,000 units.

During the period, it acquired oregano from Spice Masters Australia Pty.  

Spencers said it was made aware in March that a test on a packet of Spencers branded Oregano (best before 12 August 2017) indicated it also contained Olive leaf and Sumac leaf.

It withheld further sales pending testing and certification.

“We rely on international suppliers to meet our stringent specifications for authenticity to ensure the promise we make to our customers is upheld.  It would seem (subject to further testing) that Spencers General Trading may have unknowingly on sold product that was not to specification.

“It is important to note that the product is safe for consumption and does not pose any health risks but we understand the disappointment consumers may feel.”

Spencers said it would reinforce quality checks to ensure the incident does not reoccur.

The firm offered a refund or replacement product to consumers and worked with supermarket retailers to trace and recover suspected adulterated batches.

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