China, long known for its free-wheeling piracy of computer software, videos and music CDs, now stands accused of counterfeiting apples.
Apple industry officials from California and Washington say their representatives in Taiwan have intercepted thousands of boxes of apples falsely labeled as having been grown in the two states.
Instead, the officials contend, they were an inferior type of Fuji apple grown in China. The cartons, stickers and documentation were bogus, officials said, and the apples appeared to have been smuggled into Taiwan from mainland China. Taiwan prohibits the importation of Chinese apples.
The Washington Apple Commission filed criminal complaints last month in Taiwan to stop Taiwanese wholesalers from illegally importing Chinese apples. It has also enlisted the aid of Taiwanese customs and product-quarantine officials in an effort to protect its trademark in that country, the top export market for California apples and No. 2 for Washington.
If the industry doesn’t halt the practice now, said Steve Lutz, president of the Washington Apple Commission in Wenatchee, “next September we’ll be looking at a tidal wave of apples from mainland China labeled California and Washington.”
The problem came to light in December, when industry representatives returned from Asia to report seeing phony Washington apple logos and falsely labeled boxes. The apples had not been washed or waxed, sure signs that they were not from the United States.
The boxes, some of them emblazoned “Washington,” were about half the size of Washington’s standard 42-pound box.
Some apples bore stickers describing them as Red Delicious, despite the fact that they were Fujis. Other boxes, supposedly from California, were printed with “The Best Apple. Fuji” and an address in Petaluma, and still others carried the name of Sierra Hills, a big Stockton grower.
The stakes are high.
So far, estimates are that California and Washington have lost a total of $500,000 in apple sales in Taiwan, according to Kenton Kidd, president of the California Apple Commission in Fresno.
“That’s a big deal,” Kidd said. “It jeopardizes our business considerably.”
Taiwan is California’s biggest export market for apples, with 1995 sales valued at $38 million.
For Washington, the nation’s top apple producer, Taiwan is the second-largest and most profitable export market. Washington typically sells 4 million boxes of apples to Taiwan, with the best Fujis selling for $30 to $50 per 100-apple box.