The skyrocketing demand and reputation of Australian citrus in the Chinese market is giving fraudsters more incentives to fake Aussie fruit, a growers' group says.
Citrus Australia said Chinese counterfeiters had been rebranding Chinese fruit with Australian labels to collect higher prices and sales.
It posed a major food safety threat, but citrus growers said this was not a new scandal, and there was not much they could do.
China is Australia's fastest-growing and highest-valued citrus export market, valued at about $AU30 million.
The rise was driven largely by the "sweet, safe and healthy" profile of Australian citrus, but that was being stolen to raise the value of Chinese fruit.
Citrus Australia said some Chinese citrus was being sold in wholesale markets with Australian-branded boxes and stickers, and, in some cases, given away by spelling mistakes and images of lions or tigers.
Some of the fruit was even dipped in dye to enhance its colour, it said.
Queensland grower Ian Shepherd co-owns citrus packing company Gaypak, which exports half its volume to China, and claimed he'd personally witnessed a rip-off of his brand in China six years ago.
"...The reasons why I know it was counterfeited was because of spelling mistakes and street address being wrong ... It doesn't make you feel happy; you feel used about it."
Mr Shepherd said the domestic industry's reputation would suffer greatly if the fake Australian fruit was found to be treated with illegal chemicals.
Australian exporters becoming pickier
Darryl Lowe is the marketing manager with Sweetee Citrus in Queensland, which exports to 13 Chinese importers directly and indirectly.
He claimed he'd also witnessed citrus rebranding in China, and said he'd also had issues with price relabelling with about six importers over the past 15 years.
It was the importers who did the wrong thing, he said, and the Australian industry was becoming much pickier about who to deal with.
"What we've been doing is trying to get a full understanding of who is actually importing our product, and selecting various importers who are ethical," he said.
"We've been spending a lot of time and energy as marketers and growers visiting China and going to trade fairs to get to meet all these importers personally so we can talk to them, negotiate with any issues."
He added the majority of the importers he dealt with direct were very ethical.
Mr Lowe and Mr Shepherd said the Australian industry did not have much control other than to keep providing quality fruit, and Mr Shepherd said the Chinese Government should deal with the issue.
Andrew Harty, the market development manager with Citrus Australia, told the ABC that the industry would now consider what legal action it could take.
"We're looking at it on a number of fronts: one is to see what are the legal approaches we could take, and quite honestly, that's going to be very difficult. Those brands have got very little legal protection."
It's believed some of the fake Australian citrus in China is being exported to other countries.