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How a Chilean raspberry scam dodged food safety controls from China to Canada By Reuters

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© Reuters. Raspberries are pictured during a harvest season at a local farm near Chillan

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By Dave Sherwood

SANTIAGO (Reuters) – In January 2017, Chilean Customs inspectors acted on a tip from a whistleblower: The country’s prized crop of raspberries was under threat.

Inspectors raided the offices of Frutti di Bosco, a little-known fruit trading company on the second floor of a tower block in downtown Santiago.

The files, company data and sales records they seized revealed a food trading racket that spanned three continents.

At its heart was a fraud centered on raspberries. Low-cost frozen berries grown in China were shipped to a packing plant in central Chile. Hundreds of tons of fruit were repackaged and rebranded by Frutti di Bosco as premium Chilean-grown organics, then shipped to consumers in Canadian cities including Vancouver and Montreal, according to documents prepared by Chilean Customs as part of its investigation. The agency calculated that at least $12 million worth of mislabeled raspberries were sent to Canada between 2014 and 2016. 

Much of that product, the documents showed, came from Harbin Gaotai Food Co Ltd, a Chinese supplier. Canadian health authorities later linked berries from Harbin Gaotai to a 2017 norovirus outbreak in Quebec that sickened hundreds of people. Canadian authorities issued a recall on Harbin Gaotai berries coming directly to Canada from China dating back to July 2016. 

What they didn’t realize is that Harbin Gaotai raspberries had also entered Canada through a backdoor during that period in the form of falsely labeled fruit shipped from Chile by Frutti di Bosco.

The scheme, pieced together for the first time by Reuters, lays bare the ease with which mislabeled, potentially risky products can be slipped past the world’s health and customs agencies, even as authorities across the globe scramble to ensure foods entering their countries are free of a new scourge – COVID-19. 

Harbin Gaotai did not reply to requests to comment for this report.

Frutti di Bosco’s owner, Cesar Ramirez, who was convicted last year in Chile for falsifying export documents to facilitate the scheme, declined to speak with Reuters. His attorney declined to comment. 

Reuters examined thousands of pages of legal filings, investigation documents and trade records obtained through freedom-of-information requests in Chile and Canada. Reuters also spoke to more than two dozen people with knowledge of the case, including the manager of a fruit-packing house that uncovered the deception. 

Pulling off the fraud was relatively simple, the investigation revealed.  

The Canada-Chile trade pact, which came into force in 1997, allows exporters to self-certify the provenance of their goods, trade experts said. The agreement allowed the mislabeled berries to enter Canada tariff-free, evading a 6% levy slapped on the same fruit imported directly from China, Chilean Customs documents show. 

More lucrative still, conventional fruit represented as “organic” could fetch premium prices, piggybacking on Chile’s reputation for safety and quality. Documents certifying the fruit as organic were faked, customs inspectors found.

(For a graphic on how the scam worked, see: https://graphics.reuters.com/CHILE-CRIME/RASPBERRIES/jbyvrmdkope/index.html)

CHILE KEPT IT QUIET

Chile’s export fruit industry, alerted by Customs to the whistleblower complaint in late 2016, immediately grasped the potential fallout for the $7 billion sector, according to correspondence obtained by Reuters under Chile’s Transparency Act. 

The southern hemisphere nation stocks grocers in the United States, Canada and Europe with grapes, cherries, blueberries and raspberries in the northern winter. If word got out that Chile’s fruit was not what it purported to be – or worse still, if someone got sick – it could tarnish its hard-won image.

“This situation could generate serious problems for the food industry in our country,” Ronald Bown, head of the Chilean Fruit Exporters Association, wrote in a Nov. 15, 2016 letter to Customs obtained by Reuters. He asked the agency to investigate the whistleblower’s allegations and warned of “the closing of markets” to Chilean fruit.

Bown confirmed writing the letter and repeated the same concerns when approached by Reuters on July 30.

Chile did not notify Canada that anything was amiss, however, according to Canadian officials.  An alert failed to materialize even after Ramirez, Frutti di Bosco’s owner, alleged he had colluded with the buyer of the fruit – Montreal-based Alasko Foods Inc – to ship the illicit products to Canada, according to Chilean investigation records.

Canada’s food inspection agency said it is now investigating the matter after Reuters contacted authorities there for this story.

Alasko denied wrongdoing. The company is insolvent and entered into receivership last month, according to documents filed Sept. 10 in Quebec Superior Court by financial consultancy Raymond Chabot, Inc, the court-appointed receiver. Raymond Chabot declined to comment.

Alasko officials did not respond to requests for comment regarding the receivership.

The company’s promotional materials claim it is one of Canada’s leading purveyors of frozen fruit, with products sold in Costco (NASDAQ:) and Sam’s Club. Costco declined to comment. Sam’s Club did not respond to a request for comment.

Ramirez told Chilean Customs investigators that Alasko ordered the repackaging of the Chinese berries “because it was more economical to do it in Chile,” to take advantage of the Chile-Canada free-trade deal, Customs records show. He made the same allegations in a civil lawsuit he filed in Chile´s capital Santiago in June 2019, claiming Alasko had “directly financed and supervised” the operation. Canada received 84% of Frutti di Bosco’s produce shipments, the Customs investigation found. 

Ramirez last year pleaded guilty to two criminal counts of making false statements on export declarations. He received a $6,266 fine and a suspended 122-day jail sentence. Chilean Customs had recommended a maximum fine of $55.6 million.

His lawsuit seeks $26 million in damages from Alasko and Chilean businessman Mauricio Rebolledo. Ramirez claims in the suit he was duped into participating as a front man in the scam by Rebolledo, whom he alleges operated on behalf of Alasko.

Ramirez told Chilean Customs his firm paid sales commissions to a business tied to Rebolledo, according to investigators’ notes on the raid of Frutti di Bosco’s offices seen by Reuters. Customs did not mention Rebolledo in its final report about the investigation.

Prosecutors did not charge Rebolledo in the case.

In a written response to Reuters, Rebolledo said he was an independent fruit broker who had done business with both Frutti di Bosco and Alasko. He said he was not Alasko’s representative in Chile.

Rebolledo denied wrongdoing and said Ramirez’s allegations about his involvement in the illegal scheme were “false and tendentious.” Rebolledo said the civil suit was “unjustified” and an attempt by Ramirez to “confuse and hold others responsible” for his own misdeeds.

Alasko and Rebolledo have contested the suit, arguing it should be thrown out on grounds of inadequate evidence. The case is pending.

Frutti di Bosco continued shipping fruit, including raspberries labeled as Chilean, to Alasko through at least 2018, according to internal company shipping documents and export declarations viewed by Reuters.

Alasko said in a March 6 statement that it has always complied with all regulations on fruit imports and exports. It said it no longer does business with Frutti di Bosco and declined to comment specifically on that firm’s illicit activity.

“It is the responsibility of the growers and packers to have the proper food safety and organic certifications, and to provide the associated documentation” required for shipments to Canada, Alasko said in the email.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), however, said importers also play a key role in keeping consumers safe. The “onus is on importers of food into Canada to ensure that they source safe food from reliable suppliers and that the food meets all Canadian regulatory requirements,” the CFIA told Reuters in an email.

A Canadian government spokeswoman said her country’s Foreign Ministry, the CFIA and the Canada Border Services Agency had no records of the case or communication about it from the Chilean government.

Chilean trade expert Hugo Baierlein said the reported lack of communication was highly irregular. He said it would have been standard practice for Chilean officials to reach out in such circumstances. Baierlein served as director of foreign trade for SOFOFA, the Federation of Chilean Industry, an umbrella group that represents Chilean industry. 

Chilean Customs would not say whether it had contacted Canada, and that any such communications would be confidential.

The economic relations arm of Chile´s Foreign Ministry declined to answer questions about whether Chile had informed Canada. The agency defended Chile’s handling of the case. “The administrative and judicial procedures operated fully,” a spokeswoman said.

Neither Chile´s Foreign or Customs ministries would comment on any new steps they have taken to deter cheating and ensure the integrity of the country’s produce exports.

‘SO OBVIOUS’

Chilean Customs officials were alerted to something fishy in late 2016, when they received a letter from Fruticola Olmue, one of the country’s top fruit-packing plants, located in Chillan, 250 miles south of the capital.

Juan Sutil, the owner of a major Chilean food conglomerate and now head of Chile’s influential Chamber of Commerce and Production, had purchased Fruticola Olmue the previous year. An internal audit raised red flags about work the plant had done for Frutti di Bosco, according to a letter dated Oct. 24, 2016, seen by Reuters, which was signed by Fruticola Olmue General Manager Juan Miguel Ovalle.

Ovalle’s team found that the Fruticola Olmue plant had repackaged imported fruit into plastic bags labeled as Chilean organics, a practice that started under the facility’s previous owners in 2014 and was still happening when new management discovered it, according to documents in the Chilean Customs investigation.

Max Hassler, the former CEO of Fruticola Olmue and a current member of its board of directors, did not reply to a request for comment. He was not charged by prosecutors.

In the first seven months of 2016 alone, Fruticola Olmue appeared to have packed at least 400 tonnes of mislabeled fruit bound for Canada, enough to fill 25 shipping containers, its letter to Customs said. 

“It was so obvious,” Ovalle, who no longer works for Fruticola Olmue, told Reuters. “All of (Frutti di Bosco’s) raw material was imported.”

Fruticola Olmue cut ties with Frutti di Bosco on Oct. 24, 2016, the same day it alerted Customs, according to a separate letter it sent to Frutti di Bosco and seen by Reuters. Fruticola Olmue told Reuters it no longer does business with Ramirez, Canadian frozen fruit firm Alasko, or Rebolledo, the fruit broker.

Searching Frutti di Bosco’s books, Customs inspectors found that between 2014 and 2016 the company had exported more than 3,600 tonnes of fruit and vegetables. The provenance of half that produce wasn’t clear, agency records show. Canada was by far the top export destination, but Frutti di Bosco also shipped to the United States, Kuwait, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. In their final report to agency leaders, Customs inspectors recommended the investigation be expanded to determine the sources of all the company’s produce.

The investigation dossier provides no evidence of an expanded probe. Customs told Reuters it pursued all avenues and that no open questions remained.

The agency’s final report said Alasko was a major supplier of foreign-sourced fruit that Frutti di Bosco imported into Chile, as well as the top purchaser of Frutti di Bosco’s exports. Chilean Customs did not recommend criminal charges against Alasko.

It did, however, state in its final report that the “scope of this investigation goes beyond our national territory,” and that it appeared “Chinese and Canadian companies” had used Chile as a middleman to dodge tariffs.

Guillermo Gonzalez, head of ChileAlimentos, a trade group that represents Chile´s food industry, condemned the raspberry fraud, but called it an “isolated” incident. 

Others aren’t so sure. Complex global supply chains mean law enforcement can’t keep up with players looking to game the system, according to Gary Ades, a U.S.-based food safety consultant. 

A dragnet led by Europol and Interpol across 78 countries, including the United States and much of Europe, turned up 16,000 tonnes and 33 million liters of suspect food and drink in just five months in late 2018 and 2019. Consultants estimate food fraud costs the global industry billions of dollars annually.

Ades said the faux Chilean fruit caper would have been easy to pull off. “You just get it into a packing house, and you can’t tell where things are going,” he said. “It’s very, very difficult to trace.”

ILLNESS IN CANADA

As Chile investigated Frutti di Bosco in early 2017, Canada saw an outbreak of norovirus, a highly contagious stomach flu often triggered by food tainted with human feces. It ripped through convalescent homes and children’s daycare centers in Quebec between March and August of 2017, according to a report from Quebec’s Health Ministry and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. More than 700 people fell ill, the ministry said. 

The culprit: Frozen raspberries imported from China, according to an investigation by Canada’s CFIA, the food inspection agency. The supplier: Harbin Gaotai, one of the major sources of raspberries repackaged in the Chilean export scam. Reuters obtained a copy of the CFIA report on the probe via Canada’s Access to Information Act.

Harbin Gaotai, based in Binzhou, China, didn’t respond to requests for comment. Its products have raised concerns elsewhere. The company since 2009 has been on a U.S. Food and Drug Administration watchlist after American authorities found raspberry shipments containing illegal pesticide residue. 

In Canada, the outbreak prompted a recall of all raspberry products originating from Harbin Gaotai arriving in Canada between July 24, 2016 and July 26, 2017. The Canadian investigation identified Canada’s Alasko Foods as one of three importers of the tainted berries.

The Chilean Customs investigation showed that Frutti di Bosco was shipping repackaged Chinese raspberries to Alasko in Canada until the end of 2016, which directly overlapped with the period of the Canadian recall.

Some of those Chinese berries were supplied by Harbin Gaotai and shipped to Chile via a middleman – New Zealand-based Directus South East Asia Ltd – according to international trade and ship cargo data viewed by Reuters.

Directus told Reuters it had shipped raspberries to Chile in 2016 but was “not aware of any fraud.” It said it had no relationship with Alasko or Frutti di Bosco beyond those shipments.

No one knows whether the Harbin Gaotai raspberries imported via Chile contributed to the Canadian norovirus outbreak. Canadian authorities, unaware at the time of the illicit triangulation, said they never knew to look.





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U.S. EPA considering E15 labeling changes at gas pumps: sources By Reuters

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© Reuters. A sign advertising E15, a gasoline with 15 percent of ethanol, is seen at a gas station in Clive

By Stephanie Kelly

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is considering changes to labels for gasoline containing higher blends of ethanol, or E15, in an effort to appease the biofuel industry’s concerns that current labels discourage use of the fuel, according to four sources familiar with the matter.

Expanding the market for E15 has long been a policy goal for farmers and producers of ethanol, a corn-based product, but concerns that some older vehicles don’t run well on the product have been a headwind. Current federal E15 labels warn of possible engine damage.

The Trump administration, meanwhile, has been trying to shore up support in the Farm Belt ahead of the election through favorable announcements for biofuel advocates.

An announcement for a proposal on the labeling changes could come soon, two of the sources said. None of the sources could say exactly how the administration might alter the labeling.

EPA and the White House did not immediately comment.

President Donald Trump in mid-September said in a tweet he would allow states to permit fuel retailers to use their current pumps to sell E15.

Under U.S. law, refiners must blend billions of gallons of biofuels into their fuel pool, or buy credits from those that do. Refiners that prove the requirements harm them financially can get waivers from the obligations.

So-called small refinery exemptions, or SREs, have been a lightning rod of controversy between the Corn and Oil lobbies. Biofuel advocates say the exemptions hurt demand for their product, while the oil industry refutes that and says the waivers helps small refiners stay afloat.

The Trump administration in September sided with farmers in the ongoing debate when it rejected scores of requests from refiners for waivers that would have retroactively spared them from their obligation.

Disclaimer: Fusion Media would like to remind you that the data contained in this website is not necessarily real-time nor accurate. All CFDs (stocks, indexes, futures) and Forex prices are not provided by exchanges but rather by market makers, and so prices may not be accurate and may differ from the actual market price, meaning prices are indicative and not appropriate for trading purposes. Therefore Fusion Media doesn`t bear any responsibility for any trading losses you might incur as a result of using this data.

Fusion Media or anyone involved with Fusion Media will not accept any liability for loss or damage as a result of reliance on the information including data, quotes, charts and buy/sell signals contained within this website. Please be fully informed regarding the risks and costs associated with trading the financial markets, it is one of the riskiest investment forms possible.





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Gold Rock-Solid Just Above $1,900 as Dollar Holds, Dow Plunges By Investing.com

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© Reuters.

By Barani Krishnan

Investing.com — A meltdown in stocks a week before the U.S. election and amid alarming new Covid-19 cases sent investors scurrying to safe havens on Monday, solidifying gold’s hold at just above $1,900 an ounce.

While the gain — just $5 on the day for gold futures — was nothing to shout about, it was remarkable for one reason: it came despite a rally in the dollar, which typically would have sent the yellow metal the other way.

It was the second time over the past two weeks that the pair moved the same way, the last being on Oct. 16, when both were down about 0.2% on the day. While it’s too early to suggest that the inverse correlation trade between the dollar and gold is over, the breakdown was certainly something to muse over

“Gold prices are hanging in there despite a strong dollar as investors flee to safe-havens over anxiety over the coronavirus crisis (and) growing expectations for a ‘blue wave’,” said Ed Moya at OANDA in New York, referring to the win expected for “blue” or Democratic party candidate Joe Biden versus red or Republican party president Donald Trump.

settled at $1,905.70, up 50 cents, or 0.03%, as the  plunged almost 3%.

, which reflects real-time trades in bullion, was up $1.99, or 0.1%, at $1,903.55 by 3:00 PM ET (19:00 GMT).

The , which pits the greenback against six major currencies, was up 0.3% at 93.04.

Back in March, when risk aversion for the year was at its heights right after the global outbreak of the coronavirus, gold and the dollar surged at the same time.

The dollar then sank and gold continued its climb almost relentlessly, gaining more than $500 or 30% to hit record highs of almost $2,090 on Comex in early August.

At that point, gold tumbled as investors turned back to the dollar, which became the haven of choice due to its standing as a reserve currency. Gold hit 11-week lows of around $1,851 by late September before digging its heels into the low $1,900 support last week.

“From what we know, people are being drawn to gold now for different reasons now,” said Phillip Streible, chief market strategist at Blueline Futures in Chicago.

“The possibility of additional stimulus is certainly one; we all know another relief plan is happening, it’s just a matter of when. Another is that people are still reliving the after the election in 2016 when the Dow swung up 1,500 points overnight. So there’s this theory that gold could continue to dive with all the uncertainty we have over the present election before snapping back. Gold could benefit over this week and it has had low volatility anyway.”

Disclaimer: Fusion Media would like to remind you that the data contained in this website is not necessarily real-time nor accurate. All CFDs (stocks, indexes, futures) and Forex prices are not provided by exchanges but rather by market makers, and so prices may not be accurate and may differ from the actual market price, meaning prices are indicative and not appropriate for trading purposes. Therefore Fusion Media doesn`t bear any responsibility for any trading losses you might incur as a result of using this data.

Fusion Media or anyone involved with Fusion Media will not accept any liability for loss or damage as a result of reliance on the information including data, quotes, charts and buy/sell signals contained within this website. Please be fully informed regarding the risks and costs associated with trading the financial markets, it is one of the riskiest investment forms possible.





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Have Wheat Prices Topped Out ? – Growing Your Money

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Have Wheat Prices Topped Out ?

Wheat Futures—Wheat futures in the December contract  is currently trading lower by 10 cents at 6.22 a bushel or 1.62% this Monday afternoon in Chicago as many commodity sectors are lower today due to the fact that the Coronavirus is making new headlines once again as the Dow Jones Industrial Average is down nearly 900 points.

Wheat prices are trading far above their 20 and 100 day moving average as the trend remains to the upside, however for the bullish momentum to continue prices have to break the October 20th high of 6.38 which happened in last week’s trade.

I have been recommending a bullish position over the last month or so from around the 5.40 level and if you took that trade continue to place the stop loss under the 2 week low on a hard basis only standing at 5.87 as an exit strategy, however the chart structure will start to improve on a daily basis later this week as the monetary risk will be reduced substantially.

At the present time I also have bullish recommendations in soybeans and soybean meal which continue to hit contact highs today as the entire sector has entered into a long-term bullish secular trend in my opinion so stay long as the volatility will remain extremely high. 

TREND: HIGHER

CHART STRUCTURE: IMPROVING

VOLATILITY: HIGH

 

 

 

If you are looking to contact Michael Seery (CTA—COMMODITY TRADING ADVISOR) at 1-630-408-3325 I will be more than happy to help you with your trading or visit www.seeryfutures.com

TWITTER—@seeryfutures

 Email: mseery@seeryfutures.com
If you’re looking to open a Trading Account click on this link www.admis.com

There is a substantial risk of loss in futures and futures options. Furthermore, Seery Futures is not responsible for the accuracy of the information contained on linked sites. Trading futures and options is Not appropriate for every investor.

 

  

 



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