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Food claims 'baffling customers'

Food claims such as "pure", "fresh", "natural" and "real" are largely unregulated and are baffling consumers, a watchdog has warned.

A study by the Which? consumer group found 33% of consumers thought the phrase "real fruit" meant fruit was the main ingredient of a product, while 43% believed that products labelled "juice drink" must contain at least a quarter fruit juice.

The terms "fruit juice" and "fruit juice from concentrate" are subject to European legislation, but the phrase "juice drink" is not.

The watchdog found that Rubicon Sparkling Passion was legally entitled to include the words "real fruit juice drink" on its label, despite having just 5% juice concentrate and more sugar than concentrate.

The label on a bottle of This Water described "healthy sounding natural spring water and fresh fruits", Which? said, but failed to highlight the sugar content of up to 22g per serving, or between 69g and 89g in each one-litre container.

The watchdog also looked at Heinz Farmers' Market products, saying: "While the image of these mass-produced soups flies in the face of what we understand by farmers' markets - local produce, typically produced within a 30-mile radius and sold directly by the farmer - legally, there's nothing to stop Heinz using the term."

Which? also raised the "confusing" difference between the terms "flavour" and "flavoured", pointing out that Yop Strawberry Flavour Drinking Yoghurt does not contain strawberries.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) considers "flavour" to relate to artificial flavouring and "flavoured" to mean natural ingredients.

European food law says "the labelling and presentation of food should not mislead consumers", while the Food Standards Agency (FSA) publishes guidance on the use of particular words and phrases commonly used to describe food but is not legally binding.

However, terms including "organic" and "free range" are strictly governed to guarantee factors such as welfare standards and the use of pesticides and fertilisers.

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