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Food watchdog gets tough on ads

LONDON - The Food Standards Agency has slammed some members of the food industry for using misleading advertising labels on food packaging, and proposes tighter curbs on the use of words such as "fresh", "home-made" and "traditional".

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Under strict new measures proposed by the FSA, food manufacturers could face fines of up to £5,000 each time they use labels that could mislead consumers into believing their products are better quality.

A two-year study by the FSA's advisory committee studied the use of the terms "fresh", "natural", "pure", "traditional", "authentic", "farmhouse" and "home-made". The study found that laws governing labelling, such as the Trade Descriptions Act and the Food Labelling Regulations, are not being strictly observed.

The FSA's deputy chairwoman Suzi Leather said, "People have a basic right to clear and meaningful labels so that they know what they are really buying -- this goes to the very heart of consumer choice.

"Terms such as 'fresh', 'pure' or 'authentic' can be misused and labellers have a tendency to be economical with the truth," she said.

Under the FSA's recommendations, the term "natural" should not be used if the food's composition has been changed by chemicals or new technologies. Claims such as "naturally better" or "nature's way" are largely meaningless, according to the report, and should not be used.

The term "original" should only be used to describe food that is made to a formulation, the origin of which can be traced and that has effectively remained unchanged over time.

The committee also recommends that the use of pictures on food labels and advertising should be governed by the same guidance as terms as phrases.

The FSA plans to follow up the publication of the proposed standards with surveys and regular spot-checks.

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