Australian government takes aim at mislabelled foods, duck meat-maker in the gun

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 12th July 2012

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) instituted legal proceedings for misleading and deceptive conduct in relation to the promotion and supply of a line of duck-meat products.

The company is alleged to have claimed that its ducks were ‘open range’ and ‘grown in nature’s way’. Pictorial representations of ducks in natural surroundings are also depicted on their packaging, website and advertising material.  The company against whom the ACCC is taking action is Pepe’s Ducks Limited.

This is not the first time the ACCC has initiated action for misleading labelling of a poultry produce.  In September 2011, ACCC took action against Baiada Poultry Pty Ltd, Bartter Enterprises Pty Ltd, The Australian Chicken Meat Federation Inc and Turi Foods. These parties have all allegedly claimed that “meat chickens are raised in barns with substantial space available allowing them to roam freely”.  Turi Foods entered into an agreement with ACCC in December 2011 and pleaded guilty.  The business was fined $100,000 in January 2012.

Producers have been coining their own marketing descriptions that do not fit within the existing voluntary industry codes of practice. The difference between “Open Range” and “Free Range” might seem negligible but even the innovation of a variant term can trigger the ire of the ACCC.

As Australian Food News has reported, the “free-range” issue is also a hot one.

In September 2011, the Australian Egg Corporation Limited (AECL) proposed controversial new “free range” standards, seeking to extend the maximum number of birds per hectare from 1,500 to 20,000. The proposal outraged the Free Range Farmers Association, as threatening smaller producers who maintained a stricter definition of “free range”.

The Pepe’s Ducks case will be watched by all food producers with interest because it could also set a precedent for other claims relating to animal welfare or meat production systems.