The Regulation on the provision of food information to consumers prohibits misleading information on the properties of foods. Information and claims that are susceptible to misrepresentation include type, identity, nature, composition, quantity and shelf life, origin, manufacturing and also specific claims with regards to the effect and properties of foods.
Examples of Misleading Claims of Foods
Claims on Effects and Properties
Effects or properties a food does not possess, as well as claims suggesting that a food product is unique due to a specific feature (e.g. containing or not containing an ingredient or substance), although comparable food products posses the same features (implicit advertising).
No claims may be made in reference to preventive effects or the treatment or healing of a disease. Health claims are only allowed with the appropriate permission and when included in an EU Regulation, as long as the products meet the relevant criteria.
Many products on the Austrian market feature voluntary claims with a reference to Austria. Examples include the national flag or colours, “Austria” in the name, images of typical Austrian landscapes such as mountains, villages, pastures, animals or traditional costumes, made/produced in Austria, “Austrian quality”.
The susceptibility to misrepresentation in relation to such claims must be assessed on a product-by-product basis and regarding the overall appearance, with the processing stage also playing a role. It must be asked whether the product is characterised by specific ingredients/raw materials and their origin is recognisable, or whether the production/processing has been carried out in Austria. The legal regulation of this issue is intended in EU Regulation No. 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers. However, an implementation act is still required to enforce this regulation.
Information on the packaging explaining what the local claim refers to can be helpful in avoiding false associations regarding Austria claims. Exemptions include ingredients that are not available in Austria and the origin of which is clearly not Austria, such as exotic fruit and spices.
Manufacturing claims such as "traditional" or "handcrafted"
It is important to check whether the Austrian Food Code (www.lebensmittelbuch.at) contains a description of a specific traditional recipe for industrially produced goods featuring claims referring to being “handcrafted” or using “traditional methods and recipes.” “Handmade” or “traditional” production claims must be questioned in particular, if additives are present, for example.
Claims referring to "Bauern" (Farm(er’s))
Such claims may be a reference between a product and an individual or a farm, local raw materials from a farm and/or production method or recipe.
Claims relating to products bearing a reference to "Bauern" (Farm(er’s)) described in the sub-chapters of the Austrian Food Codex refer to traditional recipes and methods. Products marketed directly by the farm can be expected to be made from the farm’s own resources. For all other cases, additional information must clarify what the claim "Bauern" (Farm(er’s)) refers to.
Such claims as the identity of the manufacturer/place of production, essential and/or characteristic ingredients (recipe), origin of ingredients, production methods and technologies, as well as visual presentation and manner of distribution (e.g. farmer’s market) must be taken into account with regards to their susceptibility to misrepresentation in the individual case.
Images of Fruit and Other Images
Images of fruit and other images could be associated with a specific quantity of ingredients contained. However, in some products this may only indicate the flavour in combination with the use of aromatic substances, which could cause potential for misleading consumers dependent on the product’s overall presentation.
Claims such as "frei von...", "frisch" oder "natürlich" (free from…, fresh, natural)
A "frei von..." (free from) claim should be tested noting whether the respective ingredient or additive is legally permitted in comparable food products (e.g. a food category or sub-category). If this is the case, the claim is not fraudulent.
Additionally, claims or images such as "Frische", "Natürlichkeit" (fresh, natural) and similar words could be seen as implicit advertising or misrepresentation. Moreover, claims that are unclear or ambiguous could also be considered misleading. Whether a claim might be misleading or not must always be checked in each individual case and by taking a look at the product’s overall impression.
The Code guideline on non-misleading food labelling for foods sweetened with the additive Stevioglycoside (E 960) states clearly that advertising the additive’s natural authenticity when using this sweetener made from the Stevia plant is susceptible to misrepresentation.
The "Leitlinie über die täuschungsfreie Aufmachung bei freiwilligen Angaben" (guidelines on non-misleading presentation for voluntary information) of the Austrian Federal Ministry of Health includes precise details on specific voluntary information on food products.