TALLAHASSEE — The state's top agriculture official pledged Tuesday to crack down on deceptive marketing by restaurants and farmers markets that claim they are using locally sourced products.
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said Tuesday that he is working with other officials on new rules in response to a Tampa Bay Times investigation.
The report, called "Farm to Fable," found restaurants misrepresented the source of food on their menus and passed off imported seafood and vegetables as Florida-grown. It also highlighted merchants at farmers markets reselling vegetables and claiming they grew them.
"There's no question that there's a role for the state in this effort," said Putnam, elected statewide to protect consumers, as well as farmers. "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 trouble is, there aren't laws to prevent some of the deception. For example, there aren't strict rules about when people can use the Fresh from Florida logo — a marketing program run by Putnam's office for identifying ingredients made in the state.
The Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which has authority over restaurants, is working with Putnam's office to review its authority regarding deceptive marketing and possibly propose new state laws, he said.
They also may crack down using existing state laws, such as those that make it illegal to pass off other fish as Florida grouper.
Putnam, who will speak today at an agricultural export event at Port Tampa Bay, declined interview requests for the original stories.
However, he said, the "Farm to Fable" reports are proving useful as the state undergoes a rulemaking process around the Fresh from Florida brand.
"The articles certainly shined a light on other considerations that we need to bake into that new rule, and we're in that process right now," he said. "I fully expect that you'll see additional actions coming out of that."
Contact Michael Auslen at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @MichaelAuslen.