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Vegetarian sausage manufacturer pleads guilty

10 December 2004

Vegetarian sausage manufacturer pleads guilty to Fair Trading Act breach

Auckland-based vegetarian small goods manufacturer Bean Supreme Limited has pleaded guilty to breaching the Fair Trading Act and been fined $4,250 plus costs for representing vegetarian sausages as 'GMO Free' and 'Non GM' when they contained traces of GM soy.

The Commerce Commission investigated Bean Supreme following a referral from the New Zealand Food Safety Authority. The Authority tested Bean Supreme's 'GMO Free' vegetarian sausages as part of its audit programme in 2002 and established detectable amounts of GM Roundup Ready soy in the soy content of the sausages.

Commission Chair Paula Rebstock said the Commission had taken action against Bean Supreme because of the high level of public interest in GM matters, the importance of consumers being able to make informed choices and the market advantage businesses achieve through promoting products as GM free.

While the level of GM material detected did not exceed the level specified in the joint Australia/New Zealand food standard, which requires product labelling when GM material exceeds 1% per ingredient, the fact that Bean Supreme promoted the product as GM free when it wasn't contravened the Fair Trading Act. "In the Commission's view, positively promoting the absence of GM content was a clear breach of the Act when in fact there was GM content in the product."

In sentencing Judge Hole said that the untrue statements were important because a significant group of people in society are concerned about whether edible goods are genetically modified or not and they only buy goods that they understand contain no genetically modified product.

Judge Hole acknowledged confusion in regards to interpretations of what 'GMO Free' and 'non GM' actually mean to both traders and consumers. He said that the difficulty was that the offender had a mindset as to what these expressions meant and was unable to get its head around the fact that whatever the expressions meant to the industry, it did not mean the same to consumers.

Ms Rebstock said that in the Commission's view 'free' meant 'free' and 'non' meant 'non' in the eyes of a consumer. "Bean Supreme's attempts to remedy its misleading labels by replacing the 'GMO Free' labels with 'Non GM' labels did not fix the misrepresentations".

"This case is important in clarifying for the industry what is expected in regards to the accuracy of GM claims. It is incumbent upon traders to ensure they accurately inform consumers about the GM content of their products. This is particularly important because there is no way for consumers to verify those claims, and because they're often paying a premium on the basis of those claims."


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