What's in a name? How mislabelling food can leave a bitter taste


Date: 30 August 2012

Food label{{}}Food has become an increasingly profitable business and customers are always looking for something tasty and affordable. A few years ago, low fat products became very popular, despite actually containing a lot of sugar to compensate for the low fat taste. When customers noticed that they gained weight from eating too much sugar, attention turned to organic products with as few artificial additives as possible.

Matching what customers are looking for and the law

Whilst businesses are trying to match customer demands, they also need to try to keep their costs down in order to make a profit. This has led some companies to try to circumvent regular supply chains and take matters into their own hands.

This can occasionally give rise to legal disputes. Consider, for instance, the fact that some foods are protected because of their specific origin. For example, Champagne is from the Champagne area of France; if it is not produced there then it cannot be called Champagne.

Another example is Parma ham, which needs to come from Parma in Italy. A couple of years ago, the supermarket chain Asda tried to cut the cost of importing Parma ham by opting to slice and pack it in the UK. Workers in Italy whose livelihood depended on selling authentic Parma ham did not appreciate this.

The matter went as far as the European Court of Justice, which ruled that the ham had to be sliced and packed in Parma in order to be called Parma ham. However, it is allowed for supermarkets to cut the ham at the deli counter for customers.

In what way will these types of regulations impact us customers?

Customers will often be looking for products that are distinctive for one reason or another, so the provenance might actually matter.  This may mean that shops have to sell the original rather than substituting it with something cheaper and putting their own brand on it.  And by protecting a name, you might also help to sustain an industry of small suppliers and local producers which leads to more choice all round in the long run.

Of course, this may increase costs for the retailer at the sharp end of the food chain. It is often tricky to balance competing interests, but for any small business it is better to be aware of these regulations at the start, before a dispute starts.  That could lead to a price mark-up that's in no-one's interest!

Check Contact Law's website for a quiz where you can test your knowledge of protected foods.

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