By Aimee Chanthadavong

The NSW Food Authority has busted Woolworths and Coles for falsely describing the origin of fruit for sale in two Sydney stores, Minister for Primary Industries, Katrina Hodgkinson said.

"Consumers are conscious of where their food comes from and are right to expect honesty when it comes to labelling," she said.

"It may be seen to be of commercial advantage by some retailers to imply that their produce is of Australian origin. This is illegal and will not be tolerated."

It is the first time Coles and Woolworths have been fined for Country of Origin labelling breaches – labelling imported fruit as Australian produce – and both have been placed on the NSW Food Authority’s Name and Shame register.

Coles at St Marys has been fined for displaying grapefruit for sale without a statement indicating the country of origin. Neither the price ticket nor the sticker on the individual fruit contained information informing the consumer the grapefruit originated from Israel. The store was fined $880 for the offence.

Coles was unavailable for comment at the time of publishing.

Meanwhile, Woolworths’ Newington store has been fined $1540 for advertising lemons for sale as being the "Product of Australia" when the individual products were actually from the USA.

Speaking to a RetailBiz, a Woolworths spokesperson said it was a case of human error.

“It was staff oversight and they didn’t change the signage and it was an unfortunate incident that we have apologised for,” he said.

“It occurred because we were basically in a period where one season finishes and we were moving from stocking Australian lemons to US lemons. The store expected to get a delivery of US lemons and the labels and signs weren’t checked. Clearly, there was a hole in this process and we’ve reminded staff of Woolworths the obligation and compliance with country of origin label. They have also done an audit of the store.”

Further addressing this issue, Woolworths has announced that it will go beyond its legal obligations and clearly label all fresh fruit and vegetables displays containing a mix of local and imported product with their actual countries of origin.

The Woolworths spokesperson said its aim is to clear up confusion and give the customer choice and insight.

“You’ll get a situation where there’s a mix of Australian and US products when the seasons end and it’s a legal requirement to have a sign that that says it’s a mix of local and imported produces in that crate,” he said.

“But we have basically heard from our customers that putting a sign like that is too vague and is unnecessary jargon and they prefer to know where exactly it is from. So from this week, the two countries where that product comes from we’d be, for example, a mixture of Australian and US lemons.”