When is “fruity” fruity enough? Labeling, misleading and health claims on products
What has to be in the jam for it to be called “Extra Fruity”? And when is a product “low in cholesterol”? A brief introduction to the legal situation in Germany.
With buzzwords like “extra fruity” or “high in protein,” products on every discount shelf entice us and suggest health benefits. But what really has to be in it, and who regulates it anyway?
The competition for labeling
52% fruit content in a porridge sounds good at first. It sounds like lots of delicious berries and cherries. Extra fruity, in fact. But if you knew that, by law anyway, a grits must contain at least 50% fruit? Then 52% sounds rather like an economy flame. That’s what the groats manufacturer’s competitors thought, too, saw a misleading of the consumer and promptly initiated a cease-and-desist action. The defendant company was to remove the “extra fruity” additive from the packaging.
Courts deal with these and similar cases on a daily basis, because food law is complex – to say the least. And it becomes even more complex when food manufacturers advertise their products and diligently beat the advertising drum. As a general rule, where there’s no plaintiff, there’s no judge. But in the fiercely competitive food market, the competition never sleeps, and in case of doubt, it’s time to take legal action. But it’s not just the competitors who are taking a close look at the manufacturers’ packaging, and consumers are using portals like lebensmittelklarheit.de as a platform.
Honest lasts longest
A lifelike fruit image even though the product contains no fruit? A “freshness guarantee” for a product that has a shelf life of just under a month? Or an idyllic half-timbered farm on an egg carton from industrial mass production? All cases in which courts saw misleading statements and violations of the law. As everywhere in jurisprudence, of course, it always depends on the individual case and blanket statements are difficult to make. But the fact is that proper labeling and a certain sensitivity in package design and communication are becoming increasingly important.
Lucky are those who can refer to a clear legal situation – for many products, the German Food Book Commission (DLMBK) clearly specifies what may be contained and in what quantity.
But what about health claims like “cholesterol-free”? The EU would not be the EU if there were no guidelines for this as well: EU Regulation No. 1924/2006 on nutrition and health claims made on foods. Bulky name but nevertheless a useful regulation, which (also online at https://ec.europa.eu/food/food-feed-portal/screen/home?event=register.home) offers a precise overview of which statements are permitted and which are not. If there is ever any uncertainty, the list is a good help. This also applies to the criteria of the Food Standards Agency (FSA), which provides valuable information on statements such as “fresh”, “traditional” and “natural”.
Incidentally, the Grütze case was decided in favor of the manufacturer: “Extra fruity” could not refer exclusively to the amount of fruit used, but also stands for a particularly fruity taste or the use of an unusually large amount of whole fruit.