25 July 2001
Agency slams misleading labels
By Isabel Davies
A NEW report claims that consumers are being misled by descriptions like “country style” and terms such as “fresh”, “traditional” and “homemade” on food labels.
The report, produced by a committee which advises the Food Standards Agency (FSA), says laws governing food labelling must be more tightly enforced.
A two-year study by the Food Advisory Committee (FAC) found 75% of consumers find terms such as “fresh”, “natural” and “pure” misleading.
Four out of 10 thought “fresh” referred to the age of the food, when in fact it often appears on food which has previously been frozen.
When questioned, one in 10 said they thought the word “fresh” should only appear on food that had been produced or picked that day.
Nearly 50% said they expected “natural” food to be free of all additives including preservatives, colourings or artificial and man-made ingredients.
But the FAC found that the term was being used foods or ingredients that required chemicals to be used during processing.
Suzi Leather, FSA deputy chair, said: “This is an important study which takes forward the rights of consumers and doesnt pull any punches.
“People have a basic right to clear and meaningful labels so they know what they are buying — this goes to the very heart of consumer choice.”
“Terms such as fresh, pure or authentic can be misused and, to quote the report, labellers have a tendency to be economical with the truth”
The FSA plans to use the report to start consultation next week on new standards for the food industry.
While the report does not touch on the issue of country of origin, which is a key concern of the farming industry, it is an area the FSA intends to address.
The watchdog says country of origin is important for many consumers, particularly when they are choosing meat and dairy products.
It has pledged to press for clear EU rules on the use of terms like produce of and extend the rules to a wider range of foods.
MPs are also taking up the challenge backing a Private Members Bill calling for better information about country of origin and standards of production.
The Bill, which has been put forward by Conservative MP Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar), was formally presented to the House of Commons last week.
It will have its second reading on Friday, 2 November.
- FSA considers tighter labelling, FWi, 21 September, 2000
- Food agency to tackle labels, imports, FWi, 03 April, 2000
- Tory anger over food labelling, FWi, 23 July, 1999
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