The Food Safety Authority of Ireland is cracking down on overuse of marketing terms like natural, artisan and farmhouse.
Food manufacturers are being warned they can no longer slap quaint marketing labels onto products that do not live up to these descriptions.
The FSAI has issued new guidance to food businesses aimed at ensuring consumers are not misled by the packaging.
This stipulates that the term ‘traditional’ can only be used if a food is made to an authentic recipe that has existed for at least 30 years.
The term ‘farmhouse’ meanwhile can only be used if the food is actually made on a farm by a micro-enterprise employing less than 10 people and if its characteristic ingredients are grown or produced locally.
The only exception to this is specific foods that have been called farmhouse for years – namely bread with a split and rounded crust, soup with coarse cut or chunky vegetables, coarse-textured pate and cheese made on a farm.
The term ‘artisan’ meanwhile can only be used if a food is made in limited quantities by skilled craftspeople in a micro-enterprise and if the characteristic ingredients are produced or grown within a 100-km radius.
The term ‘natural’ can only be used in a compound food if its ingredients are formed by nature and not significantly interfered with and if it is additive-free or contains only natural flavourings or additives.
Although these are not legally binding regulations, the FSAI said they had been agreed with industry and consumer representatives and will complement the legislation on food labelling which carries penalties for misleading the consumer.
“An enforcement officer with concerns about the use of a marketing term covered by the guide would first take it up with the food business and see if changes can be made in a reasonable timeframe,” a spokesperson said.
“But if that process failed and the issue proceeded to prosecution, then it would be up to the courts to decide if consumers were being misled and they may or may not choose to consider the information in the guide.”
Food lawyer Raymond O’Rourke who is a member of the Taste Council which represents specialty foodmakers, and who helped draw up the new guidelines said they were in response to the mushrooming of foods using these terms.
“You get farmhouse ham that has never been near a farm, and artisan sandwiches in coffee shops that have nothing artisanal about them,” he said.
Ireland would be the first country in Europe to attempt to define these terms, and if successful here, other countries would likely follow suit with similar guidance.
Companies will be given 18 months to bring their labelling into compliance with the new guidelines, he said.