ACCC calls for fair trading in food and beverage industry
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has called on food and beverage manufacturers to curb their use of potentially misleading labels when marketing goods to customers.
ACCC Commissioner Mr John Martin today launched* a new food descriptors guideline and said it was the responsibility of every member of the $90 billion a year sector to ensure they were complying with consumer protection laws.
Mr Martin launched a new food descriptors guideline designed to help businesses understand what was considered acceptable and unacceptable labelling under the requirements of national competition and consumer protection laws contained in the Trade Practices Act 1974.
"The ACCC is particularly concerned by the apparent upswing in terms like organic and free-range where business seeks to take advantage of strong consumer demand and where the absence of regulation may provide opportunity for some business to engage in unlawful conduct", Mr Martin said.
"The ACCC believes that all representations about food and beverage should be based upon the truth but acknowledges that some claims are merely puffery - those such as farmhouse or country style may be simply fanciful or exaggerated.
The guide sets out the ACCC's views around claims that describe a product's quality, quantity, composition and/or origin.
"Descriptions of foods and beverages can be in the form of words or pictures, stated or implied, on a product label, a company website, or in a television advertisement.
"The ACCC believes that consumers would have a reasonable expectation that a food describing itself to be natural or pure should not contain food additives or artificial preservatives. Unfortunately in the past this has not always been the case. Foods that claim to be fresh should not have been processed and then reconstituted.
"Consumers should not be misled by food and beverage businesses relying on finer details or qualifications that are hidden in the ingredients list or elsewhere on the product's label", Mr Martin said. "Business needs to be mindful that consumers are not food technicians and may therefore not appreciate some of the finer nuances of food manufacturing".
The guide also includes several examples of the industry-specific enforcement matters the ACCC has undertaken.
"This guide has been developed in conjunction with the consumer lobby, industry, Food Standards Australia New Zealand and, in recognition of the trans-Tasman nature of the food and beverage industry, the New Zealand Commerce Commission, to the benefit of all consumers.
"The ACCC expects a greater level of trade practices law consideration to be reflected in advertising and labelling practices across the entire food and beverage industry sector. The new guideline is an important step in assisting the industry to adopt a proactive and informed approach to compliance.
"Those who fail to comply with the law risk action being taken against them by the ACCC, for breaches of the Trade Practices Act, or by State and Territory food law enforcement agencies for breaches of the Food Standards Code".
Food and beverage industry- Food descriptors guideline to the Trade Practices Act is available from the ACCC in printed form and from the ACCC website.