Dairy Farmers settles case involving falsely labelled cheese products

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 1st September 2008

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has obtained orders by consent in the Federal Court in Melbourne against Australian Co-operative Foods Limited (ACF) in relation to engaging in misleading and deceptive conduct and making false representations on the packaging of certain cheese products.

Between 6 February 2008 and 19 March 2008 ACF, which trades as Dairy Farmers, sold Romano style cheese that it packaged and labelled as Parmesan style cheese – the affected brands were Mil Lel and Westacre. The ACCC alleged that this conduct falsely represented the type of cheese and its nutritional attributes.

In addition to declaring that ACF’s conduct contravened sections 52, 53(a) and 55 of the Trade Practices Act 1974, the court also made orders which:

* restrain ACF from engaging in similar conduct for a period of three years
* ensure ACF publish on its website and send to business customers to whom it supplied the falsely labelled cheese a notice advising of the substitution and the false and misleading representations
* require ACF to implement and maintain a trade practices compliance program, and
* require ACF pay the ACCC’s costs of the proceeding.

ACCC Chairman, Mr Graeme Samuel, while acknowledging ACF’s cooperation in settling the matter, said that the incident was unfortunate. “ACF made a deliberate decision to falsely label the cheese to reduce an excess stockpile of Romano style cheese,” he said. “It is unfortunate that a company would engage in such conduct by marketing the falsely labelled product with statements such as ‘authentic’ and a ‘true Parmesan cheese’.”

“Where a company produces and markets distinct products it is simply not appropriate to substitute one for the other without clearly advising potential purchasers and amending other relevant representations on packaging,” he warned. “In this instance consumers who purchased both brands of the falsely labelled cheese got a product with a higher fat and lower calcium content than that stated on the packaging. Consumers who bought the falsely labelled Westacre brand also got a product with a higher sodium content than that stated on its packaging.”