Thursday

3rd Dec 2020

Clampdown on misleading ad claims

A Commission proposal due to be adopted this Wednesday (16 July) could spell the beginning of the end for well-known advertising slogans and claims used by food and pharmaceutical companies across the EU.

The proposal will harmonise rules concerning vague or misleading claims used by advertisers in the food industry such as "this product combats stress" or "helps your mood".

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The Commission is angling to ban such claims because they are not only too vague, but they are also difficult to verify scientifically and confusing for consumers.

Another type of advertising claim that the Commission has in its sights is potentially misleading claims. For example, a food product may claim to be "90 percent fat-free". Whilst this may be factually accurate, it leads the consumer to believe that the product is low in fat, whereas in fact, it might still contain 10 percent fat - a significant amount.

In fact, the Commission proposals outline a greater degree of precision in the labelling and marketing of foods and health products.

A food product claiming to be "low fat" would have to contain no more than 3g of fat whereas "fat free" could contain no more than 0.5g.

Epithets such as "light" are also to be more closely policed. From now on, "light" will have to mean "low fat", with the corresponding permitted limit on fat content. More precision will also be required for claims such as "low in salt", "high in polyunsaturates", "full of fibre" and so on.

Commission spokeswoman for consumer protection Beate Gminder told the EUobserver that the proposals would greatly benefit consumers, who will have a better idea of what they are buying.

Asked about the potential impact on advertising agencies, she said, "well, they will have to tell the truth".

The European Consumers' Association (BEUC) said that they were "very happy" that the Commission is tackling this issue but added, "we are now waiting for Wednesday to see exactly what it will propose and whether it is going the right way for consumers".

A spokeswoman for BEUC told the EUobserver that the Association had received many complaints from consumers about misleading claims on products. For example, one chocolate manufacturer tells consumers that its product is rich in antioxidants, which in turn act to slow the ageing process and protect you from the sun.

It is the idea that eating chocolate (with raisins) can shield a consumer from harmful beams from the sun that BEUC wants to see outlawed and the Commission proposals look set to fulfil their wishes.

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