Where is the evidence? This is the question that is repeatedly being asked by Ross Berries in lieu of the seizure of blueberry shipments to the European Union by Dutch authorities, as unlawfully requested by United Exports.
Instead of United Exports instituting legal proceedings in Holland to prove that the seizure of Ross Berries’ fruit holds any merits, United Exports has asked for a ten-day extension from the Dutch Customs Authority, knowing that the 26 tons of blueberries have a limited shelf life.
United Exports missed the 9 November deadline to provide evidence in the case in which it claims Ross Berries exported the blueberries without a licence. The question remains: If United Exports had reason to stop the shipments in the first place, why can they now not produce the evidence in court? The answer is that this is simply bullying tactics by a global company that seeks to use its clout to squash farmers.
It is expected that United Exports will continue to delay the adjudication of the validity of its more than 15 varieties sold to farmers in South Africa.
Furthermore, Ross Berries has done everything we can to reach an amicable agreement. We even went so far to offer that if the berries can be released and sold, the income could be placed into a trust account until the dispute is resolved. United Exports declined the offer. This leaves us with the only conclusion that this is malicious prosecution.
Ross Berries maintain actions are not unlawful
Ross Berries unequivocally states that we have not conducted ourselves unlawfully in respect of any of the OzBlu® varieties and have acted on the advice of our extended legal team. To the contrary, the seizure of the blueberries by the Dutch Customs Authority was unlawful. Moreover, it was nothing other than an attempt by United Exports to intimidate blueberry growers and exporters in South Africa with a view to controlling the blueberry market in South Africa.
Ross Berries has taken a stand against the company and is supported by numerous other farmers facing financial ruin due to the nefarious behaviour of United Exports. Thousands of jobs and millions of rands of investment in rural South African economies are at stake. In addition, the success of the blueberry industry is crucial to decreasing unemployment and bolstering rural communities.
The agricultural industry, especially those that are big employers, cannot grow if farmers are subjected to these malpractices in the fruit industry. How does one make the investments so desperately needed in our economy if we can be bullied so easily?
Investigation into United Exports by APAC and FPEF
The dubious nature of United Exports is further underscored by investigations by the Agricultural Produce Agents Council (APAC) and the Fresh Produce Exporter’s Forum (FPEF). Lawfully, when fruit is sold by a third party, proof of prices paid for the products are provided to the farm, ensuring a transparent sales process. This is not the case with United Exports and to date all queries for such documents have gone unanswered.
The investigation by APAC also considers the non-disclosure by United Exports to their producers of their competing interests. In addition, it includes the allegation that their standard lease and marketing agreements contravenes competition legislation.
Furthermore, United Exports operates as an exporter and producer, all within the same company. This goes against competitive behaviour as they are granting themselves an internal unfair advantage over farmers who are contracted to them. They have also transgressed the Plant Breeders Act by claiming that the law gives them more rights than it does.
Ross Berries believes in transparency and abiding by the law. We will not stand by while the blueberry industry is destroyed, and with it the livelihoods of farmers, farm workers and their families. This issue has a ripple effect on the whole fruit industry. – Press release, Ross Berries