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Denmark’s Tænk slams producers for misleading labels

By Eliot Beer , 05-Jan-2017

© iStock/Anetlanda
© iStock/Anetlanda

A Danish consumer rights organisation has made wide-ranging formal complaints against several food producers, including Nestlé and Kellogg’s, accusing them of misleading product labelling.

Tænk, the Danish Consumer Council, has taken producers to task over what it says is misleading labelling. After initially trying to resolve its issues with manufacturers directly, Tænk has now sent complaints about 20 products across seven different categories to the Danish government's Veterinary and Food Administration.

Breakfast cereal featured heavily, with six products from three manufacturers included in the complaints, which focused on the use of whole grain logos on sugar-rich cereals.

Other products in Tænk’s complaints included high-sugar smoothies, artificially sweetened “raw” marzipan, wine-free mulled wine, and “roast” beef that was boiled and dyed, among others.

Responsible producers?

The aim of the campaign was actually to get producers to solve these problems by themselves, not only to have a discussion on what is legal or not legal. We’re trying, with the help of consumers, to get producers to be responsible for how labelling is interpreted by consumers,” said Camilla Udsen, senior food advisor at Tænk.

The general response from producers was to say ‘we are not breaking the law’. They also said they didn’t want to cheat consumers, they wanted to satisfy consumers because otherwise they wouldn’t buy from them again. So they can’t really understand why these issues would be a problem,” she added.

Misleading health claims were the priority according to Udsen, with three of the breakfast cereals using their own whole grain logo, which she says gives a misleading impression and is confusing for consumers.

Whole grain confusion

In Denmark we have an official, voluntary whole grain logo – and the criteria are a lot more strict that Nestlé’s own criteria. The official logo requires at least 70% whole grain, and in the Nestlé products are down to around 36%, and for Golden Bridge, it’s only 18%,” she said.

The official logo also has criteria for sugar, salt and fibre – you can only use the official whole grain logo if you have a maximum amount of 13% sugar in your product. Nestlé’s products have between 25% and 38% sugar – so they’re really high in sugar,” Udsen added.

She said Tænk has had discussions with Nestlé about its own-brand whole grain logo, with the producer arguing it is a way to promote whole grain consumption by consumers, and saying it has used the logo for many years, including before the introduction of the official logo in 2009.

But that’s not our point – we’re not saying they’ve copied the logo, but that it’s confusing for consumers. We think they should have more strict criteria for using their own logos – and the best solution would be to use the official logo,” said Udsen.

Missing EU profiles cause problems

She said one general issue was the lack of standard EU-wide nutrition profiles, which were due to come into force in 2009, but still have not been finalised.

The reason for having these nutrition profiles was to avoid misleading consumers, to stop products with high levels of sugar, salt or fat as being marketed as healthy. But we don’t have these profiles, and that’s why we see, for instance, these breakfast cereals with a very high level of sugar, which have claims about fibre and whole grain,” Udsen said.

According to her, Tænk will raise the issue of nutrition profiles with the Danish government and at the EU level, as it continues to push for clearer labelling.

Of the complaints with the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration, most are awaiting decisions, while Tænk’s mulled wine complaint has been rejected.

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