(TRENTON) - A legislative package sponsored by Assembly Democrats Nelson T. Albano, Celeste M. Riley, Troy Singleton and John J. Burzichelli to promote New Jersey's wineries and farms and protect our agricultural products against counterfeits was approved Monday by the Assembly.
The first bill (A-2871), sponsored by Albano, Riley and Singleton, would put some serious teeth into the laws governing the use of the "Jersey Fresh" and similar branding, in an effort to cull counterfeit food products claiming to have New Jersey ingredients.
"When counterfeit 'Jersey Fresh' products are found, we need to get them off the market as quickly as possible," said Albano (D-Atlantic/Cape May/Cumberland). "Nabisco or Kraft wouldn't tolerate counterfeiters trying to pass knock-off Oreos or Mac and Cheese as the real thing on store shelves and neither should the farmers, butchers and fishermen behind the 'Jersey Fresh' label."
Current law already prohibits and penalizes the use of the state outline on agricultural products not produced in New Jersey. The bill (A-2871) would supplement existing law to include specific prohibitions against using the "Jersey Fresh" logos and branding on agricultural products not produced in state and would provide for the seizure and forfeiture of such counterfeit products.
"While there are already laws on the books that prohibit trying to pass off produce, vegetables and meats and fish as 'Jersey Fresh,' we don't really have a system in place to remove the goods once they've made it to store shelves," said Riley (D-Cumberland/Gloucester/Salem). "Our legislation would put that system in place; leaving counterfeit 'Jersey Fresh' products in stores benefits no one."
"There is a certain expectation of taste and quality that consumers associate with the 'Jersey Fresh' label," said Singleton (D-Burlington). "There is a trust built on product consistency that only our farmers can deliver. Counterfeits not only betray this trust, but damage the brand's reputation which can hurt our farmers and retailers financially. This added layer of protection can help prevent that."
Specifically, the bill (A-2871) would prohibit advertising and packaging from implying in any way that any produce, seafood, dairy or other agricultural product is "Jersey Fresh," unless:
- The product complies with all relevant state Department of Agriculture grading standards for freshness for the use of such branding; and
- The individual has first obtained a license and registration number from the department authorizing the use of such branding in association with their particular product.
Any agricultural product that is labeled marketed in violation of the bill's provisions would be subject to forfeiture when the defendant has committed a second or subsequent offense under the bill's provisions. In addition, upon the filing of a verified complaint alleging that farm products are being improperly marketed in violation of the bill's provisions, a court would be authorized to issue a warrant directing a law enforcement officer to: (1) seize, and take into possession, the product or products described in the complaint; (2) bring such product or products before the court that issued the warrant; and (3) summon the person named in the warrant, and any other person who may be found in knowing possession of the described product or products, to appear in court on the designated date.
If the court determines that the labeling or other marketing was in violation of the bill's (or of current law's) marketing prohibitions, the bill would require the product to be forfeited and disposed of by destruction, donation, or lawful sale, as directed by a court of competent jurisdiction. The proceeds from any court-authorized sale, less legal costs and charges, would be paid into the state treasury.
The second bill (A-2978), sponsored by Albano, Burzichelli and Riley, would require the Department of Agriculture to post on its web site information on the location and contact information of wineries and farms in New Jersey, along with a link to any other list of wineries posted on the Internet by any other state agency. Under the bill, information on farms would be posted if the farms sell any of their agricultural or horticultural items.
"Our wineries carry great potential for increased job creation and economic development throughout our state, so let's embrace that potential and promote wineries and our farms as best we can," said Albano. "It's 2013, so let's make sure we utilize our technological resources as best we can to promote our agricultural heritage."
"New Jersey's wineries are part of a burgeoning industry that can, if promoted properly, significantly benefit our state, and we know our farms are already a key aspect of our economy," said Burzichelli (D-Gloucester/Cumberland/Salem). "Let's use all of our tools to promote these tourist and business destinations to make sure we take full advantage of their benefits."
"Nowadays when people are planning a vacation, they will rely on Google to search for their ideal destination. We have the ability to reach so many more people through the web," said Riley. "New Jersey boasts beautiful farms and wineries that warrant promotion. Let's use the web to our advantage to promote these growing industries to help boost local economies, as well as the state."
The bill (A-2871) was approved 73-3-2 and now awaits further consideration by the Senate, while bill (A-2978) was approved 77-0-1 and now heads to the Senate for further consideration.