Shoppers 'misled' into buying products they think are Irish
CONSUMERS are being misled into buying imported food that they believe is Irish because of labelling loopholes and clever marketing.
The Consumers Association of Ireland (CAI) warned yesterday that labelling rules need to be tightened up because it is becoming impossible for consumers to tell what is Irish, and what isn't. The watchdog said there was nothing illegal in what companies were doing.
However, CAI chief executive Dermot Jewell said it undermined shoppers' confidence when they believed they were doing their bit for the economy by buying products that appeared to be Irish -- but were in fact not.
He said it took the CAI two days of phonecalls to Jacob Fruitfield to establish that Fruitfield marmalade, which was branded "Old Time Irish" and gave an address in Tallaght on the label, was in fact made in the UK and Portugal.
And Siucra sugar is now produced in Germany, as sugarbeet is no longer grown in Ireland, Mr Jewell told a Food Safety Authority conference titled: 'Should Ireland's Food be Irish?'
Mr Jewell also highlighted the difference between "Smoked Irish Salmon" and "Irish Smoked Salmon". In some cases the latter might be imported fish that had only been processed here.
He also slated loose, meaningless food labels such as "farmhouse", "natural", and traditional".
"The rules need to be tightened up or consumers will lose trust in products, and it tars people's perceptions, even of foods that are entirely Irish, because people no longer know what's what," he said.
Mr Jewell criticised the fact that the "Guaranteed Irish" trademark can be applied to products that are only 50pc produced in Ireland.
However, "Guaranteed Irish" chief executive Tom Rea said this was because many of the ingredients in Irish-labelled goods, such as fruit, cannot be produced here. "We have products in 42 categories from steel to timber to food, and the accepted criteria is that 50pc of the value of the final product must be created here to qualify as Irish, with all the employment and economic benefits that brings," he said.
A spokesperson for Jacob Fruitfield said there had been no intention to mislead consumers, as the name "Old Irish Marmalade" referred to the recipe used and it was well-known that they had stopped making it here several years ago.
Food lawyer Raymond O'Rourke said there was evidence that Irish shoppers were looking for more information on food labels, and the EU should work to tighten labelling laws to give consumers more choice. But, he added, there was also scope for Irish authorities to introduce guidelines on the use of various marketing terms as had been done in the UK.
Alo Mohan, of the Irish Farmers Association poultry committee, said it cost 25pc more to produce chickens in Ireland to Bord Bia quality-assured standards as there were around 5,000 less birds in a shed than the EU average.
Fine Gael Food spokesperson Andrew Doyle said consumers were being duped into buying inferior-quality imported chicken because of unclear labelling. Imported chicken often didn't reach the shelf until a week after slaughter, and there was evidence that it could contain high levels of bacteria as a result, he said.