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Man challenges CFIA ruling to label West Bank wines ‘products of Israel’

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A Winnipeg man is challenging a decision made by the federal food inspection agency last month that allows two wines produced in the West Bank region to be sold in Canada with the label "Product of Israel."

David Kattenburg, a university instructor, said his lawyer has filed a formal complaint with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's complaints and appeals office, claiming the agency did not follow Canadian and international law in making its decision.

"I found this to be outrageous, because the settlements are illegal under international law," Kattenburg said in an interview. "And here were these wines that said 'made in Israel."'

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The CFIA said it does not discuss ongoing complaint reviews.

Kattenburg's formal complaint said that he first reached out to the Liquor Control Board of Ontario in January after noticing that two wines in their stores — from the Psagot Winery and Shiloh Winery in the West Bank — were labelled as products of Israel. He said he pointed out that the wines were mislabelled.

The complaint said a CFIA investigator told Kattenburg in May that his query was still under investigation.

In July, the LCBO sent a letter to vendors saying the CFIA had determined calling the wines "Product of Israel" would not be acceptable because they were made from grapes in the West Bank occupied territory.

That position — which drew condemnation from some Jewish groups — was then quickly reversed by the CFIA, which ruled the wines could be sold in Canada with the label "Product of Israel" because of the terms of the Canadian-Israel Free Trade Agreement.

The Canadian government does not recognize permanent Israeli control over several territories occupied in 1967, including the West Bank.

But under the agreement cited by the CFIA, Israel refers to any territory where the country's customs laws are applied.

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Kattenburg argued that labelling the West Bank wines as originating in Israel is fraudulent.

His lawyer, Dimitri Lascaris, said the Canadian-Israel Free Trade Agreement is intended to eliminate trade barriers, such as subsidies or tariffs.

"That's not the case here," Lascaris said. "This is an honest labelling requirement that applies to all products, domestic and foreign."

Lascaris added that agreement is also supposed to be used in accordance with international law.

"International law is very clear — that this occupied territory is not part of Israel," he said.

Kattenburg said he hopes the CFIA will start labelling wines from the region in a way that reflects their origins.

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He said he's willing to take the CFIA to court over the matter if his complaint does not result in action from the federal agency.

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