Alberta farmers want crackdown on counterfeit Taber corn

By Tamara Gignac, Calgary Herald September 3, 2012

CALGARY — Taber corn is one of Alberta’s edible icons, a vegetable reputed to be five times sweeter than garden variety cobs.

But with praise comes imitation — and that has some southern Alberta farmers fuming. They say too many fraudulent corn pedlars are trying to pass off ordinary corn as the succulent ears from Taber.

Farmers in the Taber area want to see the end of the annual crop of counterfeit corn because they say it disrespects the brand.

“The fear is people will say, ‘I bought this corn, it was Taber and it was terrible,’ ” said David Jensen, president of the Alberta Corn Growers Association.

It’s easy enough to claim corn from British Columbia, Washington or even Ontario is Taber-grown, he noted.

“It’s no different than me making ketchup and telling everyone that it’s Heniz. That’s what these people are doing. They are using our name and reputation for good quality corn and defrauding the public.”

Taber, situated some 270 kilometres south of Calgary, prides itself on producing some of the tastiest corn in the country.

The area’s near perfect growing conditions — a blend of long, warm summer days and cool nights — make the annual harvest a highly-anticipated event.

In some cases in the Edmonton area, sellers are using phrases like “southern Alberta’s finest” in a bid to dupe unsuspecting consumers into buying lower-quality produce.

But the Alberta Corn Growers Association warns people to be wary of such claims. The best way for suspicious shoppers to be certain the corn they’re buying is genuine is to ask vendors to provide a certificate of authenticity that includes the name and phone number of the farm where the produce originated.

“It’s a corporate seal and impossible to duplicate,” Jensen said. “I field hundreds of calls about this. It’s the only way our association can police it.”

If caught, phoney corn pedlars face penalties under the Fair Trading Act. That could mean fines of up to $100,000 and possibly jail time.

But it’s not always easy to tell the difference between a legitimate cob and a mere imitation. Geography is also a thorny issue.

“What constitutes Taber corn? Is it just within Taber proper, or does Barnwell count? These are the kinds of things that make it difficult to authenticate,” said Service Alberta spokesman Gerald Kastendieck.

“It’s a challenge to prove and difficult to prosecute.”

Making matters worse, complaints sometimes arise after corn enthusiasts have already consumed the suspect cob.

“It makes it hard to verify,” Kastendieck said.

Brad Jensen has a weekday job in Calgary but sells Taber corn at a handful of locations in Airdrie.

His advice to consumers? Stick to trusted vendors who can prove they work with Taber farmers.

“If you want good quality corn, find a stand that gives you fresh stuff and stay there. If you’re going to some fly-by-night stand on the side of the road, you might get stung,” he said.

[email protected]

© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald