Trade marks with “healthy” or “natural” food connotations mislead consumers, CHOICE says

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 21st November 2012

An Australian survey by leading consumer advocacy group CHOICE has found that many food manufacturers are using a “trade mark law loophole” to label food as “healthy,” even if they are high in fat and sugar.

CHOICE’S study of 200 products with “healthy” trade-marked brand names found that almost half were high in saturated fat, sugars or sodium.

The ability of a food manufacturer to secure a trade mark that includes the words “health” or similar words is limited by the Trade Marks Act, which states a trade mark application must be rejected if its use is contrary to law. CHOICE says there may be scope for food enforcement agencies to take action where the trade mark breaches the State Food Act.

CHOICE also referred to  The George Institute’s database of 1300 products and brands that use the word “natural” in their product name or package marketing – but the ingredients may not necessarily reflect this.

CHOICE spokesperson Ingrid Just said that consumers should be wary when choosing products with names such as “natural,” “healthy” or “fresh.”

“Just because a product’s brand name suggests that its healthy or natural doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for them (consumers) or the environment,” Ms Just said.

Ms Just said that the trade mark loophole had also been used on “environmentally friendly products,” and recommended that consumers were best to read the nutritional information if looking for a healthy product.

CHOICE said that “health food” aisles in Coles and Woolworths contain some healthy foods, such as nuts and dried fruits, but they also have products that should be treated as more of an indulgence than a health food.

CHOICE is currently playing a key role in a government-led process to develop a front-of-pack labelling system that aims to let consumers know at a glance whether or not a product is healthy, cutting through these claims.