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Shoppers in France warned to pay attention to food packet claims

Report shows many common products are not in line with regulations

A photo of a woman looking at a food shelf and pointing at a product to study its packaging

Consumers are warned to be alert to health and nutritional claims on food packaging in France Pic: PERO studio / Shutterstock

People in France are warned to pay special attention to nutritional claims on food product packaging after a consumer association warned that 44% of packs claim a benefit that is not within regulations.

The association 60 Millions de consommateurs issued the reminder after a report from the French fraud office la Direction générale de la concurrence, de la consommation et de la répression des fraudes (DGCCRF).

It also made a distinction between food items that make nutritional claims versus health claims. 

For example, the first would include statements such as ‘low in sugar’. The second would go further, and might say something like ‘calcium is necessary for growth and normal bone development in children’ or ‘helps reduce cholesterol’.

Health claims not necessarily incorrect but should not be used on a certain product

And while these claims are not necessarily incorrect, a health claim should never be taken to suggest that eating or drinking a certain product helps to cure an illness or medical condition.

Similarly, the association warned that consumers cannot always trust these suggestions completely, especially those that imply that consuming a product can help cure or prevent a certain condition.

For example, a yoghurt pack that states ‘calcium prevents osteoporosis’ would go against European regulations, which banned manufacturers from making such claims in 2007.

Some products sit in legal ‘loopholes’, as their manufacturers make health claims that are not technically forbidden by the European Commission, such as ‘coconut helps digestion’.

Some product packaging could also be seen as misleading, such as, for example, an orange juice drink that is high in sugar, but which specifies: ‘Rich in Vitamin C’. This could lead the consumer to believe that they are drinking a healthy product, without realising that they are also ingesting several spoonfuls of sugar.

Regulation on such statements is set to increase next year to prevent anomalies, but in the meantime, the association warned people to stay alert to “clever marketing” and spurious claims. 

Olive oil mislabelling

The DGCCRF has also found that olive oil in particular is a product that is sometimes labelled in a misleading way.

Investigations found that in 2021, 40% of the 227 olive oil distributors studied (including factories, internet sites, grocers, small village markets) had ‘anomalies’ in the labels on bottles sold. In 2020, another study of 177 establishments found anomalies on two thirds of labels.

These included false claims about the quality of the oil. In 2020, of 97 oils analysed, 48% were considered ‘non-conformist’ to regulations. Their colour, smell, or taste did not adhere to the category criteria for such products.

In response, the DGCCRF said: “Administrative police measures have been taken to allow the downgrading of olive oil unfit for consumption and its re-use in the non-food industry.”

It warned consumers to be extra alert and read labels carefully. It said it recommended that consumers only buy olive oil with a AOP (appellation d’origine protégée) or AOC (appellation d’origine contrôlée) label to ensure quality.

It also said that too-good-to-be-true prices should act as a warning. A spokesperson said: “If you see extra-virgin olive oil at the price of a basic olive oil, that’s not right.”

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French consumer group condemns ‘lying and misleading’ food packaging

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