Aldi pledges oregano 'will be 100 per cent unadulterated'

Discount supermarket chain Aldi and supplier Menora have agreed to ensure their oregano herb range is 100 per cent unadulterated in a legally binding move in Australia.

The court-enforced agreement comes after the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) discovered last November that the oregano products from Aldi and Menora were mislabelled, having been mixed with leaves from other plants.

The companies later admitted to selling almost 190,000 units of the impure products over a year-long period.

Aldi and Menora have since promised the practice won't be repeated and, under the court agreement, they have committed to conduct annual testing of the composition of the products.

According to the ACCC, the companies were claiming their oregano products were 100 per cent dried oregano leaves when in fact there was a "substantial presence of olive leaves".

An Aldi spokesperson said: "If products sold in Aldi stores do not meet our stringent quality specifications, we have strict quality assurance policies in place to address any issues in a timely manner. The product has returned to our shelves and we work closely with our supplier to ensure it undergoes regular testing."

The court action was spurred after an investigation by Australian consumer group Choice, which tested several oregano brands last year and found seven out of 12 products contained less than 50 per cent oregano leaves.

Aldi's Stonemill product was found to contain just 26 per cent oregano and Menora's 36 per cent.

But there were brands worse than this – Master of Spices' herb contained only 10 per cent oregano while Hoyt's had just 11 per cent.

The products were found to be adulterated with olive and sumac leaves.

Meanwhile, big brands MasterFoods, Woolworths Select, Coles and Herbies Spices were all correctly labelled and contained 100 per cent dried oregano leaves.

The results tie in with an often-cited 2015 Which? study, which found that 25% of 78 samples of dried oregano bought from a range of retailers in the UK and Ireland contained ingredients other than oregano, most commonly olive and myrtle leaves.

"There is clearly a major problem in the oregano supply chain in Australia, which also raises the question about other herbs and spices entering the Australian market," a statement by Choice said at the time.

The ACCC took action against the bigger players Aldi and Menora, while agreeing "administrative resolutions" with the smaller firms G Fresh, Master of Spices and Spice & Co, which included all mislabelled products being pulled from shelves, as well as steps to confirm the future authenticity of the products.

"This is extremely bad behaviour," Rod Sims, ACCC chairman, said. "I don't think it's in anybody's head that you're getting anything other than pure oregano and our message to retailers is: Check the products you're selling."

"Suppliers of food products have an obligation to ensure ingredients of their products are accurately labelled and should be able to substantiate any representations made on the packaging that they approve," he added.

The pledges by Aldi and Menora were described as a win for Australian consumers by Tom Godfrey, a spokesman for Choice.

"We need to be able to trust what is written on the labels of the foods we purchase in our supermarkets. With so many consumers getting less than they bargained for with this popular herb, we hope the ACCC action will go some way to restoring trust in the nation's spice racks."

The reasons for the adulteration remain cloudy, but Which? suggested in the UK study that the reason could be that supply of oregano cannot meet high levels of demand, for example if supply is affected by crop failure. The main producers of oregano are in the US, Mexico, Greece and Turkey.

Which? said at the time that in the case of herbs vulnerable to food fraud "the rising demand for the product doesn't quite tally up with what we know the agricultural supply can provide."

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