Chicken products falsely labelled organic, ex-employee at poultry farm says

A former manager at an Ontario poultry packaging farm claims she was instructed to falsely label conventional chicken products as organic.

Cericola processes and packages poultry for Loblaws, Costco, and Sobeys in GTA

Vashti Dalipsingh, a former manager at Bradford, Ont.-based Cericola Farms, claimed Thursday she was instructed to falsely label conventional chicken products as organic.

A former manager at an Ontario poultry packaging farm claims the company falsely labelled conventional chicken products as organic.

Vashti Dalipsingh, who worked at Bradford-based Cericola Farms Inc., told a news conference Thursday that she discovered the practice in January but after reviewing the company's records learned that it had been going on for eight months. Dalipsingh alleged the products were mislabelled to fill orders and ship on schedule.

Cericola processes and packages poultry for major supermarkets such as Loblaws, Costco, and Sobeys in the GTA as well as in New Brunswick. 

Dorian Persaud, a lawyer for Dalipsingh, says records were falsified and code stickers changed to read that chicken arriving at the plant for processing was organic when it was not.

Persaud says a Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) inspector was stationed at the Bradford plant "and it was this person's job to catch exactly the kind of fraud that Vashti is now blowing the whistle on. How that inspector did not catch the fraud is a mystery."

In a statement, Dalipsingh said she confronted her employers between January and April of this year, "and became more forceful" when she cancelled two shipments that she says were "deliberately and falsely labelled as organic."

Lawsuit alleges wrongful dismissal

Dalipsingh, who was fired on April 30, has filed a statement of claim with the Superior Court against Cericola Farms alleging wrongful dismissal and is suing for aggravated damages and punitive damages.

"I was told by senior management that if I spoke out, it would be me that would be implicated," she said at the news conference. "I strongly believed that if I became more assertive in my decision making it would open the eyes of the owners. Unfortunately, that did not happen."

A tearful Dalipsingh said the practice "troubled me to know that I can't speak out to consumers. It bothered me a lot."

Persaud said that if Cericola "can pull the wool over the eyes of major retailers, what chance do consumers have?"

In an email to CBC News, Kevin Groh, Loblaws' vice president of corporate affairs and communication, wrote that "customers trust our organic products and complete integrity is not optional.

"Ultimately, we rely on third-party certification of suppliers' organics claims, which has many checks and balances. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is currently investigating this claim and we will act quickly when the results are conclusive," Groh wrote. "Much as we are inclined to act now, we cannot simply rely on hearsay evidence in a wrongful dismissal case."

Rod Lister, a spokesman for CFIA, told CBC News the agency is "aware of these allegations and is investigating. The agency will take appropriate action as needed. It is important to note that most organic labelling infractions are not safety concerns. The CFIA takes all allegations of mislabelling seriously."

Lister said Cericola operates two shifts a day and that inspectors go to the plant "once each shift to conduct inspections and to ensure they are compliant with the rules."

Cericola Farms did not return CBC's calls for comment.