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'Illegal' advertising of GE food investigation

27 June 2000

'Illegal' advertising of GE food to be investigated by Commerce Commission

The Minister for Consumer Affairs has asked the Commerce Commission to investigate a complaint over the legality of advertising of GE foods, which may lead to manufacturers being fined unless they change or withdraw advertisements.

The Commission is to assess if advertising for well-known Kiwi icon brands, such as Milo and Vogel's bread contravene the Fair Trading Act and the Foods Act, by misleading consumers.

The complaint to Consumer Affairs Minister Phillida Bunkle, follows a nationwide consumer survey by Colmar Brunton showing most New Zealanders do not want to eat genetically modified ingredients, but are confused about how to avoid them. Delay in mandatory labelling has left manufacturers responsible for taking up the option of voluntarily labelling, but none have done so.

The complaint by an industry insider alleges advertising of some GE contaminated products contravenes the law by misleading consumers about the product's contents.

"People do not expect these foods to contain GE ingredients. They trust these brands. But if the manufacturer is supporting the use of GE and putting it in the food they should be required to say so." says Mary Anne Howard-Clarke, spokesperson for consumer group "GE-Free NZ" which welcomes the investigation.

The complaint cites research showing manufacturers are breaking faith with their customers if they actively support new GE ingredients in traditional brands without warning consumers. Without labelling or a mention in the advertising, customers are being misled into thinking the product is the same as before; the research shows that for most consumers it is definitely not the same, and they would prefer not to buy it.

"The marketing research proves people don't want GE, but some manufacturers are just going against their customers’ wishes because they have a bigger global agenda to push ... they're getting away with it because the regulatory authorities haven't done anything."

The complaint has also been forwarded to the Advertising Standards Authority who is negotiating a code of practice with the food industry.

The complaint highlights a number of sections under the Foods and Fair trading Acts that protect consumers from misleading trade practices, and allows for action to enforce them;

Food Act 1981
S(6)i, of 1996, No 41;
"no person shall for the purpose of effecting or promoting the sale of a food publish.…any advertisement relating to the food, or to any ingredient or nutrient, or other constituent of the food that is, (a-e),f)False , or likely to deceive a purchaser with regard to the nature, quality, strength, purity, composition, origin, age, or effects of the food, or of any ingredients or nutrients, or other constituent of the food."

Section 9 paragraph 4 (amended)
"No person shall prepare or pack for sale, or sell-b) Any food containing, or having attached to it, or enclosed with it, or in contact with it any extraneous thing, the presence of which would be unexpected and unreasonable in food of that description prepared or packaged for sale in accordance with good trade practice.
The complaint alleges consumers reasonably expect heritage/family brands like Milo to have been supplied without any GE contamination, and this situation is highly misleading given the manufacturer's policy supporting the use of such ingredients.

Fair Trading Act 1986
Section 9; "No person shall in trade engage in conduct that is misleading or deceptive or is likely to mislead or deceive"
Section 10, on misleading conduct in relation to goods "liable to mislead the public as to the nature, manufacturing process, characteristics."

The complaint alleges inappropriate responses from some manufacturers to consumer queries, and misleading policy statements such as the claim by Nestle International:
"In countries where public opinion rejects ingredients derived from genetically modified crops…Nestle respects consumers' preference and will provide customers...with products that do not contain these ingredients” Source:

For more information, or copies of the formal complaint
Contact Mary-Anne Howard Clarke at 04 589 1125.


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