The Georgia Department of Agriculture is communicating with Del Monte Fresh Produce (Southeast) Inc. on alleged violations of the "Vidalia® Onion Act of 1986" and has set a settlement conference tentatively for March 12.

According to Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin, "We have information that Del Monte Fresh Produce (Southeast) Inc. may have falsely packaged, labeled, shipped and distributed up to 1,920 five-pound bags of onions as "Vidalia® Onions" to two companies in Plant City, Florida. Under the act, Del Monte could receive fines of not less than $1,000 or more than $5,000 for each bag of onions sold."

In 1986, the Georgia General Assembly passed the Vidalia® Onion Act, which states that only onions which are of an approved Vidalia® onion variety and which are grown in the Vidalia® onion production area may be identified, classified, packaged, labeled or otherwise designated for sale inside or outside Georgia as Vidalia® onions.

The Vidalia® onion is famous worldwide for its mild, sweet taste and the 2000 crop was valued at approximately $82 million. "Individuals misrepresenting Vidalia® onions by substituting them with foreign-grown, inferior products can severely harm the Vidalia® name and reputation," said Irvin of the alleged Del Monte infractions.

"When consumers bite into Vidalia® onions, they expect a certain taste. To fulfill consumer expectations, I have to monitor the seed varieties planted and where they are planted. Anybody who puts anything in a bag labeled Vidalia® onions that doesn't meet those two tests is subject to being fined," Commissioner Irvin said. "That's the only way to protect the consumer and the quality of this delicacy."