The UK Consumers' Association sought to "name and shame" food manufacturers who use misleading labelling this week when it revealed details of food products which are confusing consumers. The "shamed" products included McVitie's Butter Puffs, containing no butter, and Princes Crab paste, which contains nearly 40 per cent mackerel, 20 per cent cod, and only 11 per cent crab.
The association called on manufacturers to make their labels "honest and clear", and challenged the Food Standards Authority "to expose bad practice".
"Some manufacturers are getting away with seriously misleading descriptions about the contents of their food products. They must stop trying to fool consumers and be more honest about their goods," said Sheila McKechnie, director of the Consumers' Association (CA).
She added: "The Food Standards Agency and the EU have a part to play in regulating the producers, but consumers' own confidence in the food industry would increase if manufacturers were simply more honest about what is in the food we eat."
While there is no legal requirement for manufacturers to list all ingredients in their products, many products on the British market were deemed by the CA to have misleading labels.
This also included supermarket own brands. Safeway Salmon and Shrimp Paste was found to contain 30 per cent mackerel and 15 per cent cod and water and just 3 per cent shrimp. Safeway's Tuna and Onion Paste contained 20 per cent cod.
However, the UK Food and Drink Federation (FDF), the voice for the British food industry responded by denying that manufacturers set out to mislead.
"UK food and drink manufacturers rely on the loyalty and trust of their customers and in no way set out to mislead. They do have to instead try to get across as much information to consumers on what can sometimes be a very small space," said Martin Paterson, deputy director general of the FDF.
He added that the 1990 Food Safety Act already protects consumers from claims that fail to fulfil their promises.
The CA report highlighted, in particular, products that referred to health claims - "marketing gimmicks" - and low fat content - the term "% fat free" causes consumer confusion. Products such as Walkers Lites (crisps), in fact 22 per cent fat, and Yeo Valley healthy crème fraiche actually 17.5 per cent fat, were among the offenders.
The manufacturer of Flora pro.active spread was attacked for claiming that the product is "clinically proven to dramatically reduce cholesterol". The CA is calling for the EU to introduce legislation on health claims such as the one cited, so that consumers know whether or not manufacturers can back up claims.
Paterson however stood by the manufacturers. "Some manufacturers have produced lower fat versions of their standard products to meet consumer demand. These are not marketed as "diet products" but in fact provide consumers with a wider variety of foods from which to make informed dietary choices," he said.
He claimed that consumers can contact manufacturers directly with concerns, through websites and contact details given on their packaging.
The Consumers' Association also wants better nutrition labelling (Coca-Cola gives no nutrition advice on its bottled products) and more precise labelling about the country of origin, especially for dairy and meat produce.