The ACCC continues to crack down on false or misleading representations credence claims by food businesses, this time in relation to honey.
The ACCC issued three infringement notices to Basfoods (Aust) Pty Ltd in relation to its product “Victoria Honey”. The Commission considered that the labelling of “Victoria Honey” and Basfoods’ website misled consumers both as to the composition and place of origin of “Victoria Honey”, in contravention of section 151 of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL):
- Basfoods misrepresented that “Victoria Honey” was honey produced by honey bees by use of images of bees and a honeycomb prominently on labels and on its website, when in fact it was mainly comprised of sugars from plants; and
- Basfoods misrepresented by way of the name of the produce “Victoria Honey”, prominently on the front of product labelling, that it was from Victoria, Australia when in fact a small print on the side of the product revealed that it was a product of Turkey.
In considering whether a reasonable consumer would have been misled by the “Honey” claims and images made by Basfoods, the ACCC had regard to the Australian New Zealand Food Standards Code and its definition of honey which includes “a sweet substance produced by honey bees”.
Basfoods has provided an enforceable undertaking to the ACCC, paid $30,600 worth of penalties, agreed only to sell products as honey if produced by bees and agreed to publish a range of corrective notices. Interestingly, the undertakings require that Basfoods not only test its products represented to be honey every 6 months to ensure they are entirely made by honey bees, but also test at least 5 other products annually from its broader range of Mediterranean and Turkish foods.
Unlike some other food businesses, Basfoods managed to avoid litigation, likely as a result of its willingness to co-operate with the ACCC, including withdraw of all of its products from supply during the investigation by the ACCC and the provision of information requested by the regulator for its investigation.
This enforcement action highlights the ACCC’s ongoing concern with misleading credence claims in the food sector – namely product claims that are difficult for consumers to test or verify, especially country of origin (particularly with the current inquiry into country of origin food labelling) and other ‘premium’ nature claims such as organic, free range, ‘free to roam’, low fat, and gluten free. This is a warning to other suppliers to be careful with food claims whether in product names or by use of images on pack, or face a sting from the ACCC.