ACCC succeeds on misleading ‘King Island’ provenance source claim

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 27th February 2012

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has reported a win for consumers and King Island producers, with a Federal Court decision that has finally stopped a Victorian butcher claiming over the past four years to be selling meat described as from King Island.

Hooker Meats Pty Ltd (trading as Peninsula Bulk Meats, and located on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula), had been offering meat for sale, claiming that it was sourced from King Island, which is an island in Bass Strait that is part of Tasmania. The company has now admitted that it engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct by making this false claim.

The Federal Court imposed a $50,000 penalty on Hooker Meats, and Hooker Meats have also made undertakings to stop representing products as originating from King Island when they do not.

Hooker Meats had been advertising its “Full Range of King Island Trading Beef and Dairy Products”. In addition, they used a distinctive logo depicting King Island with the words “King Island” appearing as part of the description of certain cuts of meat. In fact, the cattle from which the beef or dairy products were sourced were not raised on King Island. This misrepresentation continued for almost 4 years from July 2007 to February 2011.

“Primary producers work hard to develop a regional reputation for quality produce. Consumers are willing to pay more for that assurance of quality,” ACCC Chairman, Rod Sims said.

“Unfortunately, retailers that falsely associate themselves with that regional reputation for quality can quickly undermine the integrity of the reputation and the hard work of primary producers. Consumers unknowingly pay a premium for goods falsely associated with that region.”

“This court case is a lesson to those retailers that might be tempted to engage in similar misleading conduct – do so and you may find yourself in court,” Mr Sims said.

Food law expert and managing principal of FoodLegal, Mr Joe Lederman, said, “This decision emphasises how Australian laws are available to protect food product provenance”.

Mr Lederman said that a growing number of brand names are becoming associated with a place as well as a high-quality food reputation attached to that place of production. He said this case had highlighted the willingness of the ACCC to pursue businesses that mislead the public by misrepresenting their products to be associated with a particular place of origin or standard of quality.