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Misleading Food labelling



Food labelling contains important information that serves as a direct communicator between food producers and buyers. Enterprises uses front package labels as a marketing strategies to promote their product. Nowadays consumers are heavily relying on the food labels when choosing the healthy products that they purchase.  Most people are attracted to these ‘health” advertising labelling.



Current issues of food labelling

Recent years, there is an increase in using health descriptor such as “organic” and “natural”. However, the organic food labelling framework, as well as other “healthy” food labelling frameworks, are generalised murky in Australia and worldwide. The definition of misleading labels refers to products that are missing required information, or not correctly named, or its health claims are not made according to specified requirements.


The use of misleading and untruthfulness labels when promoting food products are irresponsible to the public. And also, most packaged food and drink in Australia must display the Nutrition Information Panel (NIP). However, on the product label, the NIP is not usually shown in an apparent position or too small to be read. With so many misleading food labels on the shelves today, it’s difficult for customers to make a reasonable decision based on the fact. It is essential for the consumer to understand the underlying message behind food labelling. Consumer groups have the right to be well-informed and choose freely. Misleading food claim not only causes confusion to customers but also creates a barrier against a fair and efficient marketplace.


The food authorities are the agencies responsible for food labelling, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the USA, and Food Standards Australia New Zealand in Australia. However, the food authority does not commonly address misleading information in food labelling. The worst case may be the least health product used misleading food labelling to create a nutritious impression. More importantly, misleading food labelling would slowly destroy the trust of consumers, or even cause consumers to lose faith in the whole food system.



Misleading labelling examples


The most commonly and misleading label is the word “Nature”. Public tends to believe that the product with this kind of label is healthier than others that without. Although FDA and other food authorities refused to define it, which means most products can use it. “All-natural” products may still contain high fructose corn syrup, preservatives or be injected with sodium.


GMO product and GMO-free

GMO refers to the genetically modified organism which means the genetic material of the organism has been altered using genetic engineering technique. In Australia, most GMO products do not need to label themselves. For example, highly refined food, GM feed animal product and GM food additives that are less than 1% do not need to be tagged.

NON-GMO usually indicates that all of the ingredients from the product are not genetically-modified. However, products that do not come with a certified label from the Non-GMO Project or other authority organisation may not be reliable as NON- GMO is not a regulated term yet.



Public’s perception of organic is GMO-free and synthetic chemicals free. However, not all of the organic food are completely GMO-free. There are three different types of organic labelling in the market, which are certified organic, 100% organic and made with organic. Certified Organic means at least 95 % of content is organic. 100% Organic label product must contain 100% organic ingredients. Food with “Made with Organic” label contains more than 70% organic ingredients which.


Free range

Free range chickens are not truly free. In most case, they are squashed in a shed with a door that accesses to outside. Free range only means the animals move “freely” and have access to outdoors. There is not guarantee that the animal ever makes it outdoors. It also does not offer any guarantee to the humane treatment of chicken, or the health of the diet and animal. Moreover, in agriculture studies, chickens that exposure to the outside is more exposure to parasites which also affect chicken’s welfare.



Sugar-free is not a definition of health. Sugar free foods likely still involve sugar which are no good for diabetics or obesity populations. The term sugar-free only promises without the use of   traditional, white sugar, but an alternative sweetener may be added. It also doesn’t guarantee that not GMO sweetener is present.



Action is needed

Action is needed to improve current food labelling system and eliminate deceptive advertising. It is important and urgent ensure a good and fair food labelling framework for the public to knows what they eat. The problem of misleading food labelling is due to the lack of authority to acquire substantiation documents, effective regulatory mechanism and a true penalty. Some of these issues can be addressed by pushing for a reform of food authorities. And this requires the effort of both public and government.  There are many different areas that authority can be improved to ensure a better food labelling system.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand as well as other countries’ food authority need to have a clear definition of deceptive labels such as “natural” in order to achieve a consistency and uniformity for both producers and costumers. One of the main current food labelling issues is whether “natural” product is allowed to contain preservatives and GMO ingredients or not. A clear definition is important to clear public’s concern.


Authorities should also develop an integrated food labelling to monitoring and enforcement of labelling practices, and have inspectors to identify potentially deceptive claims. Civil penalties can be applying to the illegal companies, such as recalling the misbranding products. These act can ensure a fair marketplace for consumers and prevent new misleading labelling arise.


Another area that food authority should be improved on is to address all the misleading nutrition and health claims and update its regulation accordingly. Evidence collected from consumer report has shown, consumers are confused with these health and nitration claims. The reason is due to lack of clear guideline to food producers and lack of enforcement effort to correct these labelling. Loopholes are existing particular at these claims that do not require authorisation or pre-approval from food authorities.




Food label information has a huge impact on consumer purchasing decision. The labelling words impact significantly on consumer purchasing decision. Too many misdealing labels arounds are causing confusion to consumers. Customers have the right to expect that food label information is reliable and not misleading. It is crucial for the food producers to provide the accurate information to the public. Therefore, public and government should put effort to supervised and push food authorities to provide a better food labelling system.




























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