Paddle Pop and Smith’s Chips are among many snack foods that carry the school canteen approved logo.The makers of Streets Paddle Pop ice-creams and Sakata rice snacks have each paid a penalty of $10,800 after exploitingschool canteen guidelines to create a “health halo” around their processed products.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission issuedan infringement notice to Unilever, owner of Streets Paddle Pop, and Smith’s, maker of Sakatasnacks, after it found their “school canteen approved” logoswere making shoppers assumethe products had been approved or were suitable as healthy options for school canteens.
Unilever had slapped a”School canteen approved” logo with a tick on the front, back and one side of its10-pack box of “rainbow” Paddle Pop, despite the product being 20 per cent sugar.
Smith’s had stamped a”Meets school canteen guidelines” logo featuring a lunchboxwith a sandwich and fruit on its highly-processedSakata”paws pizza supreme” rice snacks.
Unilever’s Streets Paddle Pops carried a “school canteen approved” logo with a passing the grade-style tick.
“The ACCC believes both companies were using logos to claim that these products were a healthy option for school canteens to supply to children, when they were not,” ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court said.
“School canteen managers, parents and caregivers rely upon product packaging and labelling when choosing healthy snacks for children.”
Last October, Fairfax Media reported an investigation by consumer group Choice found companies were increasingly exploiting the federal and state governments’ school canteen guidelines. It identified17 company-made logos on unhealthy foods.
Itssurvey ofmore than 1000 parentsalso found 43 per cent wrongly believedthe logos wereapproved by an independent authority or government body.
Choice, which lodged a complaintto the ACCC, welcomed the news about the penalties.
“The dodgy logos were deployed on packs to fool consumers into thinking they were making a healthy choice for their kids,” spokesman Tom Godfrey said.
“This is a timely reminder to parents to be on the lookout for ‘health halos’when navigating the supermarket aisles each week.”
Both Unilever and Smith’s told Fairfax Media they were committed to providing clear andeasy-to-understand information.
A Unilever spokeswoman said the company had co-operated with the ACCC and will be removing the logos from its “core” Paddle Pop range.
Taste testers: Rebecca Jones, Reid Jones, Luca Portwin, Phoebe Myers and Juna Elliott. Photo: Edwina Pickles
A Smith’s spokeswoman said while the company stood by the “integrity” of its labelling and marketing of the Sakata product, it had already begun removing the logo before receiving the infringement notice.
“We anticipate new packaging to arrive on store shelves later this year,” she said.
Both products featured adisclaimer that it met the “amber” criteria of theNational Healthy School Canteens Guidelines.But the ACCC dismissed these because they were writtenin a small font and placed on a different side of the packaging.
“The ACCC did not consider these disclaimers were sufficiently prominent to correct the misleading representations created by the logos,” an ACCC statement said.
The “amber” categorymeans the productshould be “selected carefully”rather than eaten regularly or in large amounts.
Dr Kieron Rooney,a nutrition expert at theUniversity of Sydney who first sounded the alarm about the “health wash”, welcomed the ACCC’s action.
He said it was good to see Arnott’s had kept its promise of phasing out its logo by June this year.
He said if Unilever and Smith’s truly wanted to provide clear information on packaging, they would state their products were discretionary foods.
“The Australian Dietary Guidelines state discretionary foods – like ice-cream, biscuits and sugary drinks – should be limited to 10 per cent of the daily energy intake,” he said.
Ms Court from the ACCC said it was focusing on misleading health claims on foods.
“The ACCC is currently examining consumer protection issues around ensuring that the health claims made by large businesses are accurate and will not mislead consumers,” she said.
The payment of a penalty specified in an infringement notice is not an admission of a contravention of the Australian Consumer Law.
The ACCC can issue an infringement notice where it has reasonable grounds to believe a person has contravened certain consumer protection laws.
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