GROWERS AND suppliers who mislabel potatoes have been warned they face fines of at least £5,000 per offence.

A DNA sampling programme, funded by the Food Standards Agency, found that up to 28% of all potatoes sold to consumers were packaged under the wrong variety label.

Now the Local Authorities Co-ordinators of Regulatory Services is planning to get tough with offenders who flout trading standards.

“The biggest problem we have found is with the variety Ambo being labelled as the premium King Edward variety,” said LACORS policy officer Les Bailey.

“Consumers paying a premium for the superior cooking qualities of King Edwards are disappointed and annoyed if they don‘t get what they‘re expecting.”

The problem stems mainly from unscrupulous traders and wholesalers, explained Mr Bailey, while supermarkets are generally believed to be in the clear.

“There‘s a minority of suppliers who are taking Ambo and deliberately falsely labelling them to cash in on the premium.”

Random DNA testing during 2003 found falsely-labelled samples peaked at 28%, but settled down to 15-16% after the FSA issued warnings.

But the problem is now rising again, said Mr Bailey, and this time court action will follow if the FSA believes the mislabelling is deliberate.

“We want to give these people a warning shot across the bows. The test is 100% accurate and relatively cheap, so we can find offenders and we will prosecute,” he warned.

The maximum fine for false food labelling is £5,000, but the penalty can be higher under trade descriptions laws.