Given the current pressure being put on the UK food industry to soft-pedal junk food and promote sensible alternatives, what was Shropshire Trading Standards doing taking Tesco to court over labelling linking fruit to cancer prevention? We unpeel the facts at
Who: Tesco and Shropshire Trading Standards
Where: Shrewsbury Magistrates Court
When: May 2004
Shropshire Trading Standards has initiated a prosecution against Tesco for alleged breach of the Food Labelling Regulations 1996.
What caused the problem was a Tesco slogan, displayed in Shropshire Tesco outlets and probably elsewhere throughout the UK, promoting Tesco's fresh fruit. The slogan claimed that 5 portions of fruit a day helps to fight cancer.
Tesco has announced, since the launch of the proceedings, that it has changed its labelling so that the reference is now merely to "Healthier living." Nevertheless, it continues to stand by the earlier label, saying it is unfair to take such precipitate action against them, bearing in mind the government recommendations as to different wording for labelling in this context were published a considerable time after the offending labels appeared on Tesco fruit.
The case was due to be heard at Shrewsbury Magistrates in late May, but has since been adjourned.
The Food Labelling Regulations 1996 permit some types of labelling claims for foods, but the provisions in relation to medical claims are very strict. There is also the Food Safety Act 1990, which makes it an offence to give any misleading indication about a food, whether in a label or in any other marketing context.
The Tesco claim, that 5 portions a day of fruit helps to fight cancer, is not a million miles from subsequent government guidance as to food labelling claims, on which marketinglaw.co.uk recently reported. The official line is that it is acceptable, where appropriate, to use a phrase such as "may help reduce the risk of some cancers." Shropshire Trading Standards, however, believe the Tesco claim goes much further than this, hence the prosecution.
Why this matters:
Amidst all the current controversy over obesity and advertising for unhealthy foods, marketers reading about this case might throw their hands up in despair and ask the question "How can we win?"
Given the change that Tesco has made and the new impetus behind the promotion of healthier eating, marketinglaw's suggestion is that public resources would be better spent elsewhere and that the prosecution should be quietly dropped.