7 March 2023

The future of environmental claims in food labelling.

Environmental claims on food and drink products have become increasingly important as consumers become more conscious of the harmful impact which food production practices can have on the environment.

The Competition and Markets Authority (“CMA”) has announced that such claims will be subject to increased scrutiny, and it will consider taking enforcement action if evidence suggests a food and beverage operator’s (“FBOs”) claims are unfounded. The CMA is carrying out these reviews due to concerns that customers are being misled. The CMA chief executive has commented that “We’re concerned many shoppers are being misled and potentially even paying a premium for products that aren’t what they seem”. The CMA’s concern is supported by the fact that an international analysis of websites found that up to 40% of environmental claims being made across several sectors have the potential to mislead customers.

The CMA has published the Green Claims Code (the “Code”) to assist FBOs in deciding whether claims are legitimate. The Code should be considered alongside the customer protection afforded by the Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. The Code provides the following guidance:

  1. Claims must be truthful and accurate- FBOs must live up to the claims they make to customers. It is important to note that even if a claim is factually accurate, it cannot create a misleading impression of how environmentally friendly the product actually is. The guidance means that as well as considering the factual accuracy of a claim, the impression it creates must also be considered.
  2. Claims must be clear and unambiguous- the wording which is used in the claim must be straightforward and transparent. The wording cannot be liable to cause any confusion or leave a customer in doubt as to how environmentally friendly a product is.
  3. Claims must not omit or hide any important information- the claim should provide the customer with all the information which is important to the claim. This is to be read alongside the first piece of guidance. Information which is provided must be accurate, and any information which is important cannot be omitted. The customer must be provided with all the information which is required to make a fully informed choice.
  4. Any comparisons made in the claim must be fair and meaningful- any comparisons which are being made should be based on clear, up-to-date and objective information. The CMA also states that any products which are being compared should meet the same needs or be intended for the same purpose. The guidance reinforces that when making comparisons, it is important that FBOs are comparing like-for-like products and processes.
  5. Claims must consider the full life cycle of the product- the total impact of the product must be considered in making any claim. Claims may be misleading where for instance, they focus on the preparation of the product and do not deal with any relevant aspects of its disposal. The customer must be aware of all the relevant information in relation to the product’s life cycle, which is required to make a fully informed decision.
  6. Claims must be substantiated- they must be supported with robust, credible and up-to-date evidence.

This increased scrutiny reflects a global trend towards greater customer awareness of the impact that their decisions are having on the environment, particularly in Europe.

FBOs should consider the Code to ensure that their claims are legitimate and in keeping with the guidelines. The CMA may impose fines and criminal records if claims are unfounded. This highlights the importance of considering the Code and having the relevant supporting information readily available if any queries are raised.

If you would like any further information or advice, please contact Josh Hunter from the Corporate team.

*This information is for guidance purposes only and does not constitute, nor should be regarded, as a substitute for taking legal advice that is tailored to your circumstances.

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