DOAG: Connecticut Grown: Preserving its Integrity and Reliability for Success

This article appeared in the May 29, 2013 edition of the Ag Report
 
 

Connecticut Grown:  Preserving its Integrity and Reliability for Success

Bruce A. Sherman, DVM, MPH, Director, Bureau of Regulation and Inspection

 

The Connecticut Grown Program was developed in 1986, when the now-familiar green and blue logo was created to identify agricultural products grown in the state. 

 

With the enthusiastic support of both Governor Dannel P.
Malloy and the state legislature, the Connecticut Grown Program has expanded into a multifaceted campaign that successfully promotes these products through a diverse array of avenues.  The program’s success has not only benefited Connecticut producers and consumers but also the state’s economy. 

 

Because of the state investment in creating a valued brand in Connecticut Grown products, renewed efforts are now under way to maintain and increase the integrity of that brand by verifying that products sold as such really are Connecticut Grown.

 

The phrases “Connecticut Grown” and “CT Grown” and the associated logo have become positive factors for many consumers when making purchasing decisions.  The full potential for the continued success of the Connecticut Grown promotional campaign—the goal of which is to substantially increase the yearly total sales of agricultural products produced within the state—can only be realized by sustaining a high level of confidence in the integrity and reliability of the meaning of “Connecticut Grown.” 

 

This can only be accomplished by consistent, truthful, and reliable use of the term “Connecticut Grown,” whether in labeling or advertising, so that it is universally associated with agricultural products that are actually grown or produced in Connecticut. 

 

Integrity in labeling and advertising products produced within the state as such has an obvious importance to consumers, but often less obvious is its importance to Connecticut producers in order to uphold their confidence in the Connecticut Grown Program. 

 

Consequently, truth in labeling and advertising that accurately denotes products grown or produced in the state is extremely important in maintaining and bolstering consumer confidence.  Producers who ethically and truthfully label and advertise products as “Connecticut Grown” have an expectation, as they should, of adequate protection from unfair sales competition from those who seek a competitive sales advantage by falsely or inappropriately using “Connecticut Grown” in labeling and advertising. 

 

Furthermore, the Connecticut Grown promotional campaign includes a number of programs that provide grants and incentives funded by state taxpayer dollars.  Connecticut residents and legislators have an expectation that state and federal funding such as that for Connecticut Grown promotional activities and incentives will be used as directed by statute. 

 

The Connecticut Department of Agriculture is charged with the responsibility to provide adequate regulatory oversight to assure compliance with applicable laws and regulations associated with the various components of the Connecticut Grown Program and to assure that grants and incentives are used strictly for the sales promotion of products for which the funds were intended. 

 

The expenditure of certain federal funds is also linked to the integrity of Connecticut Grown label.  The Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program provides USDA funding for qualifying state residents and families to purchase products grown and produced in Connecticut only and sold at certified farmers’ markets. 

 

The Connecticut Department of Agriculture, through its Bureau of Regulation and Inspection, will be expanding its inspection and enforcement activities with respect to the use of the Connecticut Grown logo and label in the sales and advertising of agricultural products. 

 

Farmers’ markets, retail stores, and other sales and advertising venues will be subject to this enhanced scrutiny.  Unannounced inspections will be conducted on a random basis and also in response to complaints. 

 

The deliberate misuse of the Connecticut Grown logo and false labeling and advertising of agricultural products as “Connecticut Grown” in order to gain a competitive sales advantage does not appear to be a widespread problem.  However, in those instances that the deceptive practice does occur, significant amounts of product(s) may be involved and those responsible should be aware that they will be subject to one or more of a range of significant penalties as authorized for violating Connecticut laws. 

 

Connecticut law is very clear with respect to the intended meaning of the term “Connecticut Grown” and the associated logo and how both are to be used in advertising and the sale of agricultural products. 

 

Connecticut General Statutes Section 22-38 (C.G.S. §22-38), Advertising of Connecticut-Grown Farm Products / Advertising of Locally-Grown Farm Products, not only mandates the parameters for the use of the term “Connecticut Grown,” but also for the terms "native," "native grown," "local," or "locally grown" in advertising farm products. 

 

"Farm products" means products resulting from the practice of agriculture or farming, as defined in C.G.S. §1-1 and "Connecticut Grown" means produce and other farm products that have a traceable point of origin within Connecticut.

 

With respect to advertising, C.G.S. §22-38 states that only farm products grown or produced in Connecticut shall be advertised or sold in Connecticut as "Connecticut Grown."  Farm products grown or produced in Connecticut may be advertised or sold in Connecticut as "native," "native grown," "local," or "locally grown." 

 

Farm products grown or produced within a 10-mile radius of the point of sale for such farm products may be advertised or sold in Connecticut as "native", "native grown," "local," or "locally grown." 

 

The purpose of the 10-mile radius provision is to provide for Connecticut producers to use the terms “local” and “native” when labeling or advertising their products that may be grown or produced in fields or facilities located a short distance into an adjacent state.

 

It is noteworthy that this 10-mile radius provision does not apply to the use of “Connecticut Grown.”

 

The Connecticut Department of Agriculture has statutory authority to enforce both the above-mentioned labeling and advertising requirements, and, in doing so, to issue penalties of varying degrees for violations of those requirements. 

 

Pursuant to C.G.S. §22-38, any person, firm, partnership, or corporation advertising farm products as "native," "native grown," "local," "locally grown," or "Connecticut Grown" shall be required to furnish written proof within 10 days of the sale of such products that such products were grown or produced in Connecticut or within a 10-mile radius of the point of sale, as applicable, if requested to do so by the Commissioner of Agriculture or said commissioner's designee. 

 

Any person who violates any provision of this section shall be fined not more than $25.00 for each product label in violation of this section. 

 

Furthermore, in the case of repeated violations, the Connecticut Department of Agriculture has the authority, pursuant to C.G.S. §22-7, Administrative Civil Penalties, to issue civil penalties in the amount of up to $2,500.00 for each violation. 

 

Additionally, civil penalties can be issued in the amount of $250.00 for each day during which such violation continues after receipt of a final order of the commissioner assessing the civil penalty for such violation.

 

The Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act (CUTPA) is an additional means of legal enforcement of false advertising and labeling products as Connecticut Grown. 

 

Through the provisions of CUTPA, the Department of Consumer Protection and/or The Office of the Attorney General have the authority to legally pursue persons or firms that have used unfair or deceptive trade practices with consumers. 

 

As a case in point, in 2005, a Connecticut distribution firm for out-of-state eggs agreed to pay the state $70,075.00 for falsely claiming, by using the Connecticut Grown logo on its egg cartons, that eggs it sold were produced in Connecticut, and for using the word “farm” in its trade name. 

 

In a press release announcing the settlement, then Attorney General Richard Blumenthal stated, “The CT Grown label must mean that crops come from Connecticut soil, eggs from Connecticut chickens, and milk from Connecticut cows, not just that they are sold in Connecticut.  Stretching the label is a disservice to our hard working farmers, and consumers.”

 

In summary, we hope that this article will serve as a notification that the Connecticut Department of Agriculture places a high importance on public confidence in the integrity of the Connecticut Grown label both in sales and advertising. 

 

In that regard, the Bureau of Regulation and Inspection will be expanding enforcement efforts by conducting random inspections at farmers’ markets and other sales venues, responding to complaints of false product labeling and advertising, and issuing penalties for violations when deemed appropriate.  

 

For more information about these efforts, call 860-713-2508.