Healthy eating branded 'illegal'

Mail Online

11:04am, 17th May 2004

Supermarkets are being prosecuted for telling shoppers that fruit and vegetables are good for them.

Tesco is being taken to court for running a promotion in partnership with a leading charity encouraging people to eat healthily in a bid to prevent cancer. Asda faces a similar prosecution.

The bizarre red tape prosecutions are being brought by trading standards departments from two different local councils, which claim the stores have flouted laws governing labelling and health claims.

Tesco, in association with Cancer Research UK, printed labels on millions of pre-packed fruit and vegetables advising: "Eat at least 5 different portions of fruit and veg a day to help prevent cancer."

Cancer prevention

Asda's prosecution surrounds marketing material stating: "Mangoes are a great source of vitamin C and beta-carotene, which are good for healthy eyes and skin. Their anti-oxidant properties help to fight cancer."

No one is disputing that these claims are true. However it appears that it is illegal to apply them to a particular product.

Trading standards officers claim the supermarkets are in breach of the 1939 Cancer Act, which was brought in to stop people selling quack cures, and the 1996 Food Labelling regulations.

Tesco, which is being prosecuted by Shropshire County Council, has been forced to water down the health message on its labels. However, the council will continue with the prosecution next month at West Mercia Magistrates Court.

The store's marketing director, TimMason, said: "It is crazy thatwe are being prosecuted for promoting a responsible health message."

Asda, which is being prosecuted by Swindon council, said: "We are disappointed that the local authority is continuing to pursue the matter, given that we have sought to follow one of the Government's policy objectives."

Food regulations

A spokesman for Swindon council said: "Our view is that there is a clear breach of both the Cancer Act and Food Labelling regulations. You cannot make health claims suggesting a product will prevent cancer."

The stores could be fined