Dining

Fib to Table

How Florida's government is addressing farm-to-table lies
Photo: Lizzie Munro/Tasting Table
Florida to Crack Down on Farm-to-Table Liars

Two weeks ago, Tampa Bay Times restaurant critic Laura Reiley authored an explosive exposé on restaurants in and around Tampa lying about the use of "local" ingredients. Reiley writes, "If you eat food, you are being lied to every day." To back up her claim, she points out that one restaurant selling "Florida blue crab" is actually sourcing the crustacean from the Indian Ocean. Another restaurant with "veal schnitzel" on the menu is actually swapping out the pricey meat for far cheaper pork chops. Furthermore, nearly all of the claims about sourcing from one owner of a well-reviewed restaurant turned out to be false: "[He] said he uses quail from Magnolia Farms in Lake City. [The supplier] said the quail is from Wyoming," she writes.

After several months of research and even DNA testing fish to find out their origin, Reiley came to this conclusion: "Just about everyone tells tales. Sometimes they are whoppers, sometimes they are fibs borne of negligence or ignorance, and sometimes they are nearly harmless omissions or 'greenwashing.'"

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Now the state is discussing how to crack down on violators. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said last week, "Lying to customers not only is misleading and fraudulent activity, but it undermines what we have spent years building up, which is this brand that locally grown Florida products are high-value products worthy of higher prices."

The state allows restaurants to use a Fresh from Florida logo on their menus if they complete a two-part application; however, it appears the logo is being misused and abused. "Restaurants supply vendors information up front about their sources for Florida-grown products. . . . But otherwise, the program is an honor system. No restaurant has ever been demoted or removed," Reiley reports.

It's unclear how precisely Putnam and his department will crack down on violators, but the Department of Business and Professional Regulation is on the case and new state laws could be proposed. "I fully expect that you'll see additional actions," he says.

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