Dear Lifehacker, I am on a calorie-controlled diet and was very excited to discover a delicious product which only contained 432 kilojoules per serve. I was quite sceptical how this product could be so low in KJ as I was still gaining weight on a limited number of calories. Recently I noticed the bottle of said product has now been labelled with a different count of 1297KJ per serve. When you drink up to four a day I now understand why I have been gaining weight!
I was wondering that the legalities of printing incorrect information on food labels are. There does not appear to be any published apology for the incident — just a sneaky change in label. What are companies supposed to do when this happens? Thanks, Diet Dilemma
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The Australian Food Standards Code requires nearly all food products to include energy, protein, fat, saturated fat, carbohydrate, sugars and sodium content on the packaging’s nutrition information panel.
However, it’s up to the food manufacturer to calculate these numbers. This is usually achieved via a combination of laboratory analysis, food composition databases and the Nutrition Panel Calculator; an online tool provided by Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ).
With the exception of laboratory analysis, the above methods are all based on empirical data which can lead to occasional inaccuracies. Indeed, the FSANZ acknowledges in its own documentation that there are a number of limitations in the current system which could contribute to margins of error:
FSANZ makes no warranty that the results generated by the Nutrition Panel Calculator will be free from error, or if used will ensure compliance with the relevant requirements of the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code. Before relying on the results generated by the Nutrition Panel Calculator in any important matter, you should carefully evaluate the accuracy, completeness and relevance of the results for your purposes, and should obtain appropriate expert advice relevant to your particular circumstances.
With all that said, it’s rare for a product to contain three times as much energy as the nutrition information panel. Are you sure the company didn’t just change the ingredients or number of serving sizes per bottle?
Australia’s fair trading laws require that labels do not misinform through false, misleading or deceptive representations. Failure to comply can result in huge fines, so it seems unlikely that a company would deliberately flout the law just to hoodwink a few health-conscious customers. The risk simply isn’t worth it.
In any event, if you think you’ve been falsely advertised to, consider complaining to the relevant state body: you can find a list of contact details at the Australian Food Standards website.
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