In an attempt to protect accurate consumer labeling information, the Ontario Liquor Control Board and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency ordered the products labeled ‘Product of Israel’ but produced in the Occupied Territories removed, says Dr. David Kattenburg
Sharmini Peries: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. In Canada, the LCBO, which is the Liquor Control Board of Ontario ordered its stores to remove certain Israeli wines from specific wineries from their shelves on Tuesday. The reason given for the move is inaccurate labeling of products, which are actually not from Israel, but from its Occupied Territories of Palestine. Then the Canadian Food Inspection Agency clarified that products of Israel would not be an acceptable country of origin declaration for the wines that were produced or have been made or come from grapes grown, fermented, processed, blended, and finished in the West Bank or its Occupied Territories. On to better explain the matter, we are being joined by David Kattenburg. He is a Winnipeg based science educator, broadcaster, and web publisher. He has traveled and reported on situations in the occupied Palestine for a very long time, and David initiated the case that we are about to discuss. David, thank you so much for joining us. David: Hello. Sharmini Peries: So David, let’s first elaborate on the issue at hand. David Kattenburg: The issue at hand is that if a Canadian goes into a food shop or a liquor outlet and buys a certain product that says made in a certain country or a product that says it consists of certain ingredients, that consumer expects that the information is truthful. If I were to go into a shop and buy a bottle of Bordeaux wine saying, “Made in Bordeaux, Made in France,” and I spent $40 on it and I discovered that it actually had been produced on the cheap from grapes grown in Greece, I’d be really upset. Canadians, I’m sure it’s upset with Americans, want to know that the products that they’re purchasing are truthfully advertised and truthfully presented. So here we have the case of a couple of wines that are labeled “Made in Israel,” and it turns out they’re actually not made within what the international community considers to be Israel, within Israel’s internationally recognized borders, but in fact in the heart of the West Bank in the occupied Palestinian territories. So Israel should not have the right to market wines produced in the Occupied Territories outside of its own borders and present these wines as made in Israel. So on a very fundamental level, it’s a truth in advertising and consumer accuracy and consumer protection issue. But on a larger political level, Israel should not have the rights. The Canadian government should not be endorsing Israel’s de facto annexation of the West Bank by allowing wines to be sold in Canada labeled “Made in Israel” when in fact they were produced in the Occupied Territories. It’s all the more egregious because the Canadian government’s official longstanding policy, even under the staunchly pro-Israeli Harper government was that the Occupied Territories are not part of Israel, that Israel was an occupied power. Sharmini Peries: All right, David. So give us a sense of how you became aware of the issue that the LCBO and other stores within Canada were carrying products labeled “From Israel” when it was in fact not. David Kattenburg: Well you know, I enjoy drinking my wine. I’m a wine lover, so I’m also very interested in the whole situation as justice and peace in Palestine and Israel. So I set out in a kind of tentative way, not terribly formal way, to find out if there were any wines on sale here in the province of Manitoba right in the middle of Canada, produced in settlements. It didn’t really lead me anywhere, and then I decided to go check out the website of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, the LCBO in Ontario. Ontario is Canada’s most populous province, and the LCBO is the largest purveyor of liquor in the country. Lots of Israeli wines, and I found a couple of them that were obviously produced in West Bank settlements, one of them in settlements of Shilo and Ma’ale Levona settlements in the heart of the West Bank, and [inaudible 00:04:55], north of Jerusalem and another one not far from that spot. I thought, “Bingo.” And they’re labeled “Made in Israel” on the LCBO’s website. So I initiated action. I communicated wine the LCBO. Didn’t get much action. Then I communicated with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, telling them that they’ve got to label these. CFIA guidelines, in terms of labeling wine products, state explicitly that in order for a wine to be labeled “Made in such and such country,” it means that 75% of the juice that went into producing that wine has to be derived 75% from grapes grown in that country. Here we have a situation where 100% of the juice is produced from grapes grown in the Occupied Territories. So I said, “You can’t label these ‘Made in Israel.’ They’ve gotta be labeled by CFIA guidelines and Canadian government policy.” Sharmini Peries: So it must have been a much more labor intensive process for you to take it from there to them issuing a letter to LCBO vendors saying that they should not carry these wines from these specific wineries. How did that come about? David Kattenburg: I regularly contacted the LCBO and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Didn’t take a lot of effort at all, just periodic emails saying, “What’s going on?” At a certain point, I discovered oh, about a month ago, that in fact the wines were no longer on LCBO shelves. They were no longer posted on the website of the LCBO. So I communicated with the LCBO and they said, “Yeah, the wines are no longer in stock.” I thought that was interesting. Then I communicated by email with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. It didn’t take a lot of effort, just a little bit of persistence. I was regularly told, “It’s in process. It takes time for us to figure this out.” And then just the other day, July 11, bang! I find out that a decision had been made because B’nai B’rith Canada, one of the largest pro-Israeli lobbying organizations in Canada, posted the LCBO’s directive on its Facebook page, indicating that it had been in extensive contact with Canadian government officials and was confident that the Canadian government would rescind its decision. This was the first I’d heard. Sharmini Peries: I understand that B’nai B’rith and other Jewish advocacy organizations in Canada is now taking actions trying to get the LCBO and the Canadian officials who took this action to rescind on their decision, and this is not the first time such action has been rescinded. There is a case in point in Germany where a similar action was taken, and then the decision had to be taken back, rescinded on. Give us an explanation of what might unfold in the next few days as a result of LCBO taking this decision. David Kattenburg: Well, it’s hard for me to say. We’re gonna have to wait and see, but in a sense the decision that was taken was not huge, it was just these two specific wine products the LCBO ordered, instructed vendors to not purchase these wines and take them off shelves, but they were actually no longer on shelves. They were no longer on sale with the LCBO for reasons that are not entirely clear to me. But no instruction was issued, for example, Golan Heights wines off shelves, or any other particular product that happens to be produced in West Bank settlements. So the directive issued by the LCBO was minimal, and so B’nai B’rith and other Zionist organizations attempting to get the government to rescind their decision. The decision that was made was not particularly significant in scope. What is significant is that right now the LCBO and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency are in discussion with each other, and I’m sure discussions are taking place within the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, but probably now involving much higher levels of government to decide how precisely West Bank wines should be labeled, and I guess whether they should be labeled “Made in the Occupied Territories” at all, or if indeed Israel should have the right to market wines produced in the Occupied Territories as being “Made in Israel.” This decision is consultation still taking place within the FIA, as well as trying to figure out “an action plan,” how the Liquor Control Board of Ontario should actually ascertain whether or not wines are produced within the West Bank, because it’s one thing for an Israeli wine producer to say, “Yes, this is produced in Israel.” But due diligence requires that they show the money as it were, and the best way to do that would be to provide, for example, the GPS coordinates of the vineyards. This would be the sort of thing that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is now trying to figure out in consultation with the LCBO. So all this stuff, the decision that was actually the ruling, was really minor in scope. So what the B’nai B’rith may or not actually end up achieving is actually not that very large. I’m sure the CFIA will have a lot of wiggle room in terms of satisfying B’nai B’rith, but not necessary going back on its decision. But I am sure that the Trudeau government is receiving lots of pushback from its dear friend, the Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Israeli government to basically allow Israel to market wines produced outside its borders as “Made in Israel,” thereby getting Canada to essentially endorse the de facto annexation of the West Bank. If this is what happens, we’ll see what happens next, but likely I’ll be taking legal action. Sharmini Peries: All right David. I thank you so much for joining us, and we’ll keep an eye on this. I hope you can join us again as the issue develops further in Canada. Thank you so much. David Kattenburg: You’re more than welcome. Sharmini Peries: And thank you for joining me here on The Real News Network.