Consumer advice center criticizes inadmissible health promises on food
The fact that some foods are naturally healthier than others is undisputed. However, many food manufacturers today advertise their products with non-verifiable additional health benefits and mislead consumers with so-called "health claims", according to the criticism of the Federal Association of Consumer Centers (vzbv).
"In a joint campaign, the consumer centers nationwide examined food with health promises on the label," reports the Federal Consumer Center. The market check on the health promises on food had shown that products with supposed additional health benefits are trending and that they already account for a share of five percent of total food sales. The vzbv complains that advertisements are often advertised with impermissible statements. "Although the European Union sets strict requirements for health advertising on food and only around 250 claims are allowed across Europe, many manufacturers use loopholes in the Health Claims Regulation" and "the legal requirements are often not observed", criticized "Lebensmittelklarheit.de" as an internet portal for consumer advice centers.
Almost half of the tested food advertised inadmissibly The study carried out on behalf of vzbv and the portal "Lebensmittelklarheit" forms the third part of three consumer surveys with a total of 2,250 participants by Agrifood Consulting and the University of Göttingen in 2014. The results were presented at the opening the International Green Week (IGW) in Berlin. Overall, "63 percent of the products examined lured with potentially misleading statements," according to the vzbv. Almost half (43 percent) of the 46 products examined had advertised with health claims that the consumer advice centers did not approve. "On 22 of the 46 products, the meaning of health promises was inadmissibly increased," reports the Federal Consumer Association. As an example of the falsified advertising promises, the vzbv mentions the phrase "Contributes to the normal function of the immune system", which is twisted into the claim "Make an important contribution to the structure and functionality of the body's own defenses". "According to the European Health Claims Ordinance, this falsification is not permitted," the vzbv alleged.
First impression when making a purchase decision The misleading health promises on food are to be assessed particularly critically, because the first impression is decisive for the purchase decision of consumers. "The information on the back, such as the legally required list of ingredients or nutritional information, has hardly any influence on the expectations raised", so the criticism of the vzbv. For example, more than 90 percent of consumers would understand “unsweetened” or “without added sugar” to mean that the product contains no sugar. Over 50 percent are of the opinion that “there are no sweetening additives (sugar substitutes, sweeteners) - a misconception,” reports the Federal Consumer Association. The board of the vzbv, Klaus Müller, explained that the "manufacturers should take into account the expectations of consumers when labeling".
Addition of vitamins and minerals In their market check, the consumer advice centers also found that the addition of vitamins and minerals should give some foods a healthy image. However, in "over half of the foodstuffs tested, the positively highlighted ingredients would not originate from the food itself, but were added industrially," reports the vzbv. In addition, "labeling deficiencies were found in about every third product, even though the EU's Health Claims Regulation makes clear requirements," said the critic of the food officer and co-author of the study at the Hamburg Consumer Center, Armin Valet.
Whitening on the label Consumer advocates also demand that in future no products may be labeled with health claims that have a high sugar or fat content. This was the case for at least ten of the 33 products that were examined in the market check. "Too often, the food manufacturers whitewash on the label," said the conclusion of the vzbv board Klaus Müller. The manufacturers are asked to limit themselves to approved health promises. In addition, it is necessary to define nutritional profiles that clearly define the requirements for the composition of foods with health claims. (fp)
Image: Tim Reckmann / pixelio.de