Tuesday, November 22, 2011


The labeling provision under food legislation is supposed to make the contents of a sealed food pack more transparent in terms of ingredients and nutrition. But does it really serve the purpose for which is was designed? There are differing views on this issue but most despicable aspect of label declarations is inserting unproven or vague claims to attract the unsuspecting consumer with lot of promise but never delivered! Though many countries are making their labeling regulations more and more stringent, the wily industry invariably finds gaping loopholes for continuing with such deceitful clams. Here is the latest trend evident in some countries which reflects the mindset of the industry to make money at any cost. 

What's really behind all those new "artisan" labels consumers are seeing in their supermarkets? Loblaws has just announced its "artisan style" croutons. Metro stores boast an Artisan Deli Collection. And PepsiCo now offers artisan tortilla chips. It all raises a question: are shoppers being served up the real deal — a genuine individually produced product — or being duped by companies trying to tap consumer interest in homestyle products? Canada's labelling rules don't spell out any definition of "artisan," but they prohibit false and misleading representations on food products. That means an "artisan" food should be produced in a "traditional and rudimentary" way using basic equipment and a "significant portion of manual labour," according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Many small businesses do just that. At Ottawa's Art Is In Bakery, for instance, the breads and baked goods are all manufactured by hand at the small retail shop and wholesale bakery, which serves local stores and restaurants. In contrast, big brands, such as Pepperidge Farm and "Domino's have picked up on the word and are now making "artisan" products for the masses. In a recently published report, food industry expert Tom Vierhile found there were nearly 500 new product launches in 2009 and 2010 with the word "artisan" or "artisanal" in the brand or product name. Vierhile, the innovation insights director at Datamonitor, said the term "gourmet" has become commonplace, so the word "artisan" builds on terms such as "homestyle," "homemade" and "authentic." "The word 'gourmet' has become so overused, I just think it's become a throwaway term. That's even less illuminating than 'artisan.' At least (artisan) suggests that it may be possibly handmade," Vierhile told Postmedia News. "It has become popular and companies are using it to identify products that have more of a specialty component or is trying to distance itself from foods that are mass-produced." Vierhile said marketing a product as artisan "can be effective to convince consumers that the product is not the same old thing," but there is a risk in branding factory-made items as artisan and selling them for a premium price. "That's sort of the rub here: Can you be artisan and be mass-produced at the same time? That's part of the conundrum with these products. If you claim to be artisan, it can be a difficult thing to convince consumers that the product is truly artisan if it's a mass-market type of item."

Recent disapproval by the authorities, of hundreds of claims made in Europe by the food industry probably may be a beginning in cracking down on such "malpractices" and other countries need to tighten their rules to help consumers to protect themselves from such predatory practices. It is rather sad that consumers also fall easy prey to this strategy of the industry without realizing that they are being cheated. As long as the claims do not endanger the lives they can be considered as an economic fraud which must be punished through economic impositions. But if the claims lead to serious health problems, severe punishment including jailing the offenders must be considered. Consumer NGOs have a constructive role to play in this field.


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