Canada backtracks on banning ‘Product of Israel’ labels for West Bank wines

Hours after Canadian food inspectors ordered liquor stores to stop selling wines made in the West Bank, saying their label identifying them as Israeli contravenes Ottawa’s policy on the territory, Canada’s federal food inspection agency backtracked on the decision.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said in a Thursday statement that it had not “fully considered” the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement in reaching its ruling. The agency said the wines do in fact adhere to the agreement and can be sold as currently labeled.

The Liquor Control Board of Ontario said earlier that the inspection agency had notified wine sellers last week that it would be unacceptable to declare Israel as the country of origin for wine products that aren’t produced within Israel’s formal borders. The board issued a letter to its vendors informing them of the decision.

The letter indicated “that ‘Product of Israel’ would not be an acceptable country of origin declaration for wine products that have been made from grapes that are grown, fermented, processed, blended and finished in the West Bank occupied territory.”

Wine barrels age at Psagot Winery, located in a settlement of the same name in the hills of the central West Bank. (photo credit: Psagot Winery/JTA)

The ruling would have extended to wines from “any other territory occupied by Israel in 1967” that carried such a label, which would be “considered misleading,” specifically mentioning the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem and Gaza, as well as the West Bank.

The initial announcement singled out the Psagot and Shiloh wineries, made in settlements outside Ramallah.

The CFIA is a government body that controls all marketing and sales of wine in Canada.

Jewish winemaker David Ventura from the West Bank settlement of Ofra checks the sugar level in grapes at his vineyard on September 18, 2011. (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

“I request that all vendors discontinue any importations or sales of products labeled as ‘Products of Israel’ from the wineries named above (or others located in the same regions) until further notice,” the LCBO letter read

In a statement Thursday before the reversal, B’nai Brith Canada said that it “is expecting that the [CFIA] will soon rescind its recent decision to order the removal of certain Israeli wines from store shelves.“

“B’nai Brith has received a lot of information on this matter from multiple sources and officials during the past 24 hours as we were advocating on behalf of the community,” said Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada. “We can say now that we are expecting this disturbing decision to be corrected in short order.”

Settlement wineries have boomed in the past decade or so. According to a 2011 report, West Bank settlements are home to 29 of the more than 150 wineries in Israel and its territories, compared to 14 in the famed Golan Heights wine country.

In this Tuesday, February 11, 2014 photo, Israeli workers inspect barrels in a winery in the West Bank settlement of Psagot. (photo credit: AP/Dan Balilty)

Several West Bank settlement winery owners reported exponential increases in production since the early 2000s, with most of their wines being sold in Israel.

As one of the most prominent exported products from West Bank settlements and the Golan Heights, wines have been at the forefront of a battle between Israel and the European Union over product labeling.

In 2015, Israel reacted angrily after German department store KeDeWe stopped stocking Golan wines to comply with the labeling rules, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying the move amounted to a boycott of the Jewish state.


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