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Wednesday, 25 July, 2001, 12:35 GMT 13:35 UK
Consumers 'misled' by some food labels

Consumers in Northern Ireland are being misled by meaningless descriptions on some food labels, according to a report.

The report, by an advisory committee to the Food Standards Agency is the result of a two year study by the Food Advisory Committee.

It criticises some members of the food industry for misusing terms such as country style, fresh, traditional, and homemade.

The report, said the basic requirements under the regulations that outlaw misleading labels are not being strictly observed.

Michael Walker, of the Northern Ireland Advisory Committee of the Food Standards Agency said the public had a right to know what they were buying.

Terms such as fresh, pure or authentic can be misused and labellers have a tendency to be economical with the truth

Michael Walker NI Advisory Committee

"People have a basic right to clear and meaningful labels so that they know what they are really buying - this goes to the very heart of consumer choice," he said.

The report recommended that tighter enforcement of the rules be applied in the province.

"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'."

"This is a timely review of labelling in what is a fast-changing market. The agency will use this report to set clear standards that protect consumers and honest traders."

The report sets out a number of detailed recommendations.

The Food Standards Agency will use these as the basis for advice to industry and enforcement authorities on when these terms should and should not be used.

Misleading labels

The report considered the use of pictures on food labels and advertising and recommended that they should be governed by the same guidance as terms and phrases.

The committee's report followed consumer research which found that about 75% of consumers find terms such as fresh, natural and pure misleading.

Four out of 10 people thought 'fresh' referred to the age of the food and nearly five out of 10 expected 'natural' food to be free of additives, including preservatives, colourings or artificial man-made ingredients

The Food Standards Agency says it will use the report to start consultation next week on new standards to industry that will help protect consumers and provide for more effective enforcement.

The agency plans to follow up the publication of the proposed standards with surveys and regular spot-checks.

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