Saturday , May 25 2024

How ‘free from’ labels can mislead consumers

Environmental consciousness is growing. We are more aware than ever before of our influence on the environment, which is unquestionably a positive trend. Big firms that depend on people sticking with them amid competition are keeping a close watch on rising environmental awareness and passion, and many are modifying their policies as more consumers seek brands which change their procedures to safeguard the natural world.

Regrettably, some businesses seem to be ready to cover up their ecologically detrimental activities through deceptive advertising rather than make genuine changes. For example, the Advertising Standards Authority chastised Tesco for failing to demonstrate that its Plant Chef burgers other plant protein-based items were more ecologically friendly than animal alternatives, as it seemed to suggest in its promotion.

Greenwashing is becoming more common as customers strive to prioritise the sustainability of the goods and services they use and reduce the environmental impact of their purchases. More and more businesses are promoting and claiming to be ecologically responsible using faulty reasoning and misleading statements. Greenwashing is the practise of firms marketing items to customers by making false environmental or eco-friendly claims (for example, “natural,” “recyclable,” or “organic”). As highlighted on the Government’s Green Claims Campaign website, there are several methods to do this, including “statements, symbols, emblems, logos, visuals, colours, and product brand names.”

Following a long consultation, the Competition and Markets Authority issued its Green Claims Code in September 2021. The authority is now proceeding with its greenwashing probe, beginning with the fashion business and moving on to the packaged food industry and supermarkets. Furthermore, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has been investigating false green claims in the food and beverage industry.

Previously, the ASA sanctioned Alpro and Oatly, two alternative milk producers. Following  109 complaints, which included one from the advocacy organisation A Greener World regarding a January 2021 campaign, the ASA reviewed five claims made by Oatly. Four out of five environmental claims in Oatly’s ‘Help Dad’ campaign violated ASA regulations, leading to harsh advertising restrictions and a warning to verify any future claims.

Meanwhile, Alpro, another free-from milk brand, suffered the full weight of the ASA’s wrath when it violated the greenwashing guidelines. The ASA cautioned almond milk maker Alpro to be more cautious about its environmental promises. This was in reference to a poster that appeared on the side of a bus in October 2020. ‘Next stop, your recipe to a healthier planet!’ reads one of the boasts. ‘Good for the planet, good for you,’ says the other.

Greenwashing is a major problem in the UK market. It misleads customers and undermines consumer trust in firms’ environmental credentials. Some of the most prominent examples are “no palm oil” and “palm oil free” items. These claims and labelling have caused customers to assume that “no palm oil” and “palm oil free” goods are superior than items containing sustainable palm oil. In many situations, customers are unaware of the alternative utilised in the product and if it is more ecologically friendly and sustainable than items using sustainable palm oil.

Consumers are misled by the “palm oil free” promise. It convinces consumers that “free from” items are always healthier for their health and the environment than “with.” According to research conducted by the Italian consumer organisation For Free Choice Institute on 96 food goods, “palm oil free” products were notably less sustainable.

The corporate assaults against palm oil are particularly strange. Many firms seem to believe that by avoiding palm oil, they are helping to rescue the environment, particularly by halting deforestation and safeguarding orangutan natural habitat. However, all research in this area shows that palm oil is the most land-efficient of all the major vegetable oils available to those companies, so switching away from it and instead choosing another vegetable oil to use as an ingredient will actually have a net negative effect on the planet and fuel further deforestation, because you have to cut down a lot more trees to yield the same amount of end product.

Environmental awareness is an excellent place to start, but it will not be enough to reverse the negative impacts of human influence on the ecosystem, such as climate change and deforestation. To really make a difference, businesses must be far more open and honest about the choices they make in the production process and across their supply chains, as well as the implications of those actions. Trying to fool customers by placing a “palm oil free” label on their package is not enough, and both consumers and regulatory agencies are becoming aware of this.

About Jason Reed

Jason Reed is a writer and broadcaster on politics and policy for a wide range of outlets.

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