Watchdog orders pork producers not to tell porkies about free range products

Watchdog orders pork producers not to tell porkies about free range products

 

Three businesses in the pork industry have drawn the ire of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission for making potentially misleading claims about “free range” products.

The watchdog believes Primo Smallgoods, KR Castlemaine and Otway Pork may have breached Australian Consumer Law with claims on their products.

The ACCC has been investigating the pork industry, with an emphasis on products labelled as “free range”, “bred free range” and “bred indoors”.

Primo Smallgoods is in the firing line for its use of the words “free range” on its products, while KR Castlemaine and Otway Pork have attracted the regulator’s attention for their “bred free range” claims.

The pork companies are the latest to fall foul of the consumer watchdog when it comes to its ongoing crackdown on companies making misleading claims about ‘free range’ products.

In a statement today, the ACCC said it had accepted enforceable undertakings from the three companies responsible for the brands, which will involve each company issuing corrections and implementing consumer law compliance programs.

The producer-owned organisation which promotes the pork industry, Australian Pork Limited, has also agreed to change the title and logo of one of its pork production standards from “outdoor bred” to “Outdoor Bred. Raised indoors on straw” after the ACCC considered the wording made it clearer to consumers the pigs were born outdoors but raised indoors from weaning until slaughter.

ACCC chairman Rod Sims said the investigation highlights the importance of meat producers getting their marketing right.

“It is important that the description on product packaging and in promotional material accurately reflects the living conditions of the animals raised for the production of meat products,” Sims said.

“Marketing material must use words that consumers can understand, irrespective of whether the words have some special industry meaning.”

Alistair Little, partner at TressCox Lawyers, told SmartCompany this afternoon he understands the enforceable undertakings will require the companies to refrain from making similar representations in future and to issue “corrective advertising”.

This could possibly require the companies to place corrections with the retailers where the produce has been sold, Little says.

“It might be a notice which states the products were not free range and indicates the companies had to give an undertaking not to use the language again,” Little says.

Little says backing down publicly from previous claims could result in some negative brand damage for the companies involved.

 “It has the potential to be embarrassing for the companies,” he says.

“The fact of the matter is if the notice is prominently displayed, there is always the potential for reputational damage.”

Little says the ACCC is likely concerned that genuine free range producers are being disadvantaged or undercut on price by any producers that make false claims.

 “That’s one of the real competition issues here, that the ACC keen to sort out, if people are claiming products are free range or organic, that those claims are true,” he says.

“The ACCC is going to really crack down hard on people making false or misleading claims with regards to source of their products.”

SmartCompany contacted Primo Smallgoods, George Weston Foods and Otway Pork and Australian Pork Limited but did not receive a response prior to publication.

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