Trademark loophole leads to misleading health claims: Choice

Food manufacturers are able to market their products as being fresh, healthy or natural when this may not be the case, a Choice study has found.

The consumer group reviewed 200 food products with natural or healthy sounding product names and found that almost half (93) were high in either total fat, saturated fat, sugars or sodium.

Choice spokesperson, Ingrid Just, said "Manufacturers are trademarking healthy words such as ‘natural’, ‘healthy’ and ‘fresh’ to give the impression that a product is healthier than it seems. Other product names suggest eco-friendliness as consumers are often willing to pay premium for perceived environmental benefits."

Such products include:

  • Five All Natural Bakery Bars – nutritional information indicates they are high in saturated fat and sugar
  • Natural Cordial Company’s lime cordial – contains a sulphite preservative
  • Nice & Natural Nut and Yoghurt Muesli Bars – contain a yoghurt-flavoured compound and the popular soy-based emulsifier lecithin
  • Mother Earth Baked Oaty Slices – high in saturated fat
  • A number of Back to Nature and Goodness Superfoods Cereals – high in sugar.

Just said that while food labelling laws prohibit the use of the word 'health' on products and other claims that might mislead consumers, manufacturers can sidestep this by using such words in trademarks.

Trademark law prohibits the registration of a trademark likely to deceive or cause confusion, but nutritional analysis is not part of the approval of new trade marks by IP Australia. However, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) is in the process of developing a standard for health claims that would only allow these claims to be made on food products that meet agreed nutritional criteria and are supported by robust scientific evidence.

"Despite the efforts of food labelling regulators to stamp out dodgy health claims, the trademark loophole will remain open to food manufacturers," said Just.


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