Labelling food to protect consumers

 

Sir, – I note Alison Healy’s report (Home News, August 31st, 2012) on calls at the Taste Council summer school for the Government to protect food labelling terms such as “farmhouse” and “artisan”. These calls seem sensible. It would, however, be difficult to draft legislation that would adequately cover the range of labels that might be abused while at the same time avoiding overregulation of everyday language.

It would be better for the National Consumer Agency and food businesses to use the existing provisions of the Consumer Protection Act 2007 and the European Communities (Misleading and Comparative Marketing Communications) Regulations 2007, both of which provide remedies against the abuse of marketing terms. For example, misleading statements about the characteristics of a product (including its geographical origin) or characteristics of the producer (including identity and status) are prohibited and actionable. Consumers can obtain an award of exemplary damages against a trader who engages in a misleading commercial practice, and competitors can apply to the courts for an order prohibiting a producer from engaging in a misleading commercial practice.

Minister for Enterprise Richard Bruton announced in 2011 that his department would undertake a “major overhaul of consumer law”. Consumer law is much neglected in Ireland but I would suggest that the neglect is primarily, as ever, at the enforcement level rather than the legislative.

Mr Bruton might recall that his predecessor, Micheál Martin, heralded the 2007 Act as the most significant piece of consumer legislation in three decades and one which provided Irish consumers with “one of the strongest and most modern consumer protection regimes”. He may have been right, but consumers cannot be blamed for failing to notice the impact in the last few years.

Before changing the law, one should check to see what the law already is.

The 2007 Act and Regulations contain wide-ranging provisions which should be more than adequate to combat improper use of food labelling terms, without having to wait for a departmental report to be commissioned, translated into a Bill, debated, passed, signed and enforced. – Yours, etc,

ROSSA McMAHON,

Newcastle West,

Co Limerick.