NZ liquor importer and distributor fined

Friday, 21 June, 2024

NZ liquor importer and distributor fined

An Auckland liquor importer and distributor have been fined NZ$244,000 for attempting to sell thousands of bottles of illegal liquor.

Both the importer and distributer were sentenced in the Auckland District Court in April following a prosecution by New Zealand Food Safety. The importer pleaded guilty to three charges under the Food Act 2014, including being an unregistered importer, and the distributer pleaded guilty to one charge under the Food Act.

The offending included both companies possessing for sale or selling non-compliant alcohol involving over 5500 bottles of imported liquor that had either no lot codes or were stickered with a lot code that was not genuine. All liquor was seized by compliance investigators from their distribution warehouse.

New Zealand Food Safety Deputy-Director General Vincent Arbuckle said lot codes are unique and laser-etched into the glass of the bottle or printed on the label. They ensure traceability in the event of a product recall and assure consumers that the product contents are genuine and have not been changed in any way.

“Label integrity matters and when businesses try to get around the rules, they are at best deceiving consumers and at worst putting them at risk. In this case, a sample of the liquor was tested and showed that the product was genuine, but that doesn’t excuse the offending. Consumers deserve to know that the product they are consuming is safe and suitable and the lot numbers help provide that assurance. Also, if a recall was required, the lack of a lot code would make it difficult for us to trace affected product,” Arbuckle said.

As the liquor was non-compliant, an application to the court will be made to have the liquor destroyed at a specialised waste disposal plant.

This sentence on 17 June 2024 is part of a wider Ministry for Primary Industries compliance investigation called ‘Operation Spirit’. In 2022, another Auckland liquor importing company was fined more than $150,000 for also importing thousands of bottles of liquor that had lot codes removed or tampered with.

“Our responsibility is to consumers and their safety. People should expect to feel confident that all imported food is subject to consistently high safety standards and is fit for purpose. When we find evidence of non-compliance, such as lot codes being tampered with, we will take action, including removing products from shelves, and in serious cases, placing the offending before the courts,” Arbuckle said.

“In August 2023, New Zealand Food Safety strengthened the requirements for all New Zealand food importers. The changes clarify the role and responsibilities of food importers when they bring food into New Zealand, to ensure that the food is safe and suitable for Kiwi consumers.

“We encourage all registered food importers to check the Ministry for Primary Industries website to make sure they are following the updated rules.”

The updated requirements can be found in the Requirements for Registered Food Importers and Imported Food for Sale.

Image credit: Tam

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