Industry consulted on labels claiming 'natural' and 'pure'
guidelines on the use of words such as 'fresh', 'natural' and
'pure' in food labelling.
The FSA last issued labelling guidelines on these marketing terms in 2002. It has now launched a consultation to adapt the advice in light of new developments in the food industry and growing concerns from consumers on the descriptions put onto some labels. The FSA has now invited the food industry to respond to the chosen criteria for the labelling guidelines by 21 January. The changes to the guidelines are intended to provide clearer advice to manufacturers, producers, retailers and caterers, helping them decide when the descriptions should be used or not. They will also help the enforcement authorities, and will ultimately help consumers in their product selection. The new criteria to be decided on will regulate the use of new terms that have come into use, such as 'farmhouse pate', 'handmade', 'quality', 'selected', 'premium', 'finest' and 'best'. The FSA also wants alter the guidance on the use of some existing terms to take account of results of research into consumer expectations. The research supports some of the existing advice and identifies amendments that are needed for the terms 'traditional', 'original', 'authentic/real/genuine' and 'homemade'. Additionally, it wants to provide revised advice on existing terms to take account of issues that have arisen when advice has been requested from the FSA or where further information on industry practices has emerged. The term 'fresh' is of particular interest because modern distribution and storage methods make the legitimacy of the term increasingly confusing. It is also used in a number of phrases the FSA says have emotive appeal but no real meaning, with phrases such as 'oven fresh' and 'garden fresh'. Other descriptions to be looked into include 'natural' and 'pure', thereby tightening criteria for when colourings and flavourings have been added, and 'farmhouse' and 'traditional'. The new guidelines will also make the voluntary, best practice advice clearer and more distinct from the legal requirements. Labelling has been a topical matter for debate amongst the industry and regulators, as the consumer trend leans towards healthier eating with a growing demand for natural and organic products. The European Commission is currently in the midst of reviewing several aspects of labelling requirements to simplify the rules and reduce the burden on the industry while also maintaining a high level of consumer information and protection. The UK has also been reviewing various aspects concerning food labelling, looking at pre-packaged foods and health claims for example.