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Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Product Labeling and Claims - The Reality, the Law and the Litmus Test

Transparency, The Law, Label Declarations, and Consumer Protection

Hypothesis 1:
The law must be based on reality and, therefore, must address real issues. Otherwise, it is futile and serves merely as grounds for senseless and irresponsible argumentation.

Hypothesis 2:
Claims about the benefits that consumers derive from a product must be based on truly confirmed reality (scientific or otherwise). Claims that are based on hasty tests or personal opinions are irresponsible and fraudulent.

Hypothesis 3:
Information about possible adverse effects of food on vulnerable populations must be honestly and clearly declared. It is irresponsible and fraudulent to use language that causes confusion or print sizes and information placements that evade notice.

Further Examination of the Hypotheses:
The different players in the label declarations arena have their respective roles as follows:

Law makers’ determination to protect the public from any deceptive claims by food merchants about their products is commendable. However, proposed or enacted laws that attempt to cover every possible scenario create more confusion than they resolve because a complete coverage of all possible scenarios is impossible.

Food labeling laws in many jurisdictions require the label (or product information) to identify all ingredients, the sources and potential hazards such as allergens and sensitizing agents present in the product. A departure from this otherwise realistic requirement occurs as soon as certain ingredients, materials or substances are specifically named as requiring mandatory declaration. Even where scientific studies and/or actual consumer experiences have shown that such materials need special usage precautions or prohibition, a prescriptive focus on such materials in any law is a mistake. The specific naming of a material in a law other than to serve as an example of materials of concern is a departure from practical reality. Along the same lines, prescribing allowable limits for specific materials in any law is a departure from practical reality. The likelihood exists that some consumers could have adverse reactions to levels outside the prescribed limits. Even if instances of adverse reactions are very few, they are not insignificant. A person who actually suffers the adverse effect is not likely to view that as insignificant.

Product merchants are entitled to claim the credit for any benefits derived from their products. They also have the full responsibility, culpability and liability for any harm caused by their product due to any cause within their control. Product merchants must ensure full disclosure of product information, particularly the composition, origin, special processing or production methods, etc., that are or should be of interest or concern to consumers. 

The scientific community and industry experts serve the law makers, product merchants and consumers. Their investigations and (realistically) proven findings provide the basis for labeling claims, regulations and consumer choices. Any label claims and regulations that are based on such unbiased investigations are closer to the reality than otherwise. In every case of a claim made by merchants, the introduction of new type of food item or ingredient, a regulatory restriction, a legal prohibition, et cetera, unbiased, thorough realistic and extensive studies that are free of ulterior motives and lobbyist pressures are necessary.

Consumer advocates are usually on the side of protecting consumers. They act to ensure that consumers are fully informed and prevented from eating food that may cause them harm. They also act to ensure other interests or needs of consumers such as nutritional needs, fraud prevention, fair pricing, social responsibility of food merchants, etc.

Consumers rely on the scientific (usually health & safety professionals), industry experts and consumer advocacy for information that guides their choices. This makes the provision of realistic and relevant information to the consumers all the more crucial.

A Case Study:
by Karlene Lukovitz, November 20, 2014, 7:26 AM

Litmus Test:
With GCSE-Food and Health Protection, the health of consumers is of higher priority than the economic benefits to the merchants although this is important. Thus, with the stakes clearly stated, and remembering that regulatory approvals can be subject to lobbyist pressures without the physical presence of the lobbyists, a simple litmus test can be applied: Check the motives behind every instance of a claim made by merchants, the introduction of new type of product, a regulatory approval, et cetera; check to see if the proposals and approvals are for health reasons, for financial gains or other economic reasons; and check the motives behind regulatory approvals to see if such approvals are because they (the regulators) wish to enhance public health, to boost “the economy” or simply to advance some political aspirations.

So we have the possible motivators: consumer health, financial gain, the boosting of public health, the boosting of economic activity, political agendas, etc. There may be other motivators but given those listed, which do you think are most likely to drive the pursuit of reality in investigations prior to label declarations and regulatory approvals?
Posted By Felix Amiri
Felix Amiri is the current Food Sector Chair of GCSE-Food & Health Protection

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