Although the ever-present threat of an Advertising Standards Authority may be a deterrent to advertising claims that are absolutely untrue, advertisers taking liberties with the truth appears to be another matter entirely.
A certain nationwide chain that retails home improvement products is a case in point, glibly promising to better by 15% the price of goods somebody may be able to purchase elsewhere. This particular store will know full well the prices offered to competing chains by manufacturers whose products they share. It also stocks ranges of products unavailable elsewhere. If this chain is so confident that it can’t be beaten on price, how about doing away with the 15% entirely, instead offering to supply the product in question for nothing?
Other manufacturers pander to human fears by making extravagant claims promoting products that are “GE free” or which contain “no growth promoting hormones” as a couple of examples. Other manufacturers’ products won’t contain these items either. They just don’t mention that. An assumption consumers could make from hearing the claims made by the first supplier is that others are guiltily foisting things upon them.
My niece, who has just completed secondary school, was recently talking with a classmate who believed that New Zealand beef and sheepmeats weren’t free range because, if they were, this would be mentioned on the packaging they were sold in. My niece was smart enough to realise the futility of endeavouring to strangle that misconception. People not understanding where their food comes from is not a problem that is going to be solved quickly.
Food labelling regulations are getting better at informing readers as to what may be lurking within products they may choose to consume. Proper labels shouldn’t raise fears or concerns or promote benefits about items that aren’t measurably detectable. Or should they?
These days there are regulations prohibiting the sale of unlabelled processed foods. This was not always the case.
Some years ago I spent a summer working for a sheep and beef farmer in eastern Taranaki, about midway between Stratford and Whangamomona. It was a summer of two notable fires. The first crippled the daily railcar service that ran between New Plymouth and Taumarunui. The second (unrelated) fire saw the demise of a supermarket in Stratford.
With an eye to a bargain, the farmer’s wife stocked up large at an after-fire sale at the supermarket. As well as acquiring many dozen packets of smoke-enriched biscuits, she also invested in lots of tinned foods, all of which had had their labels washed off by fire fighters’ hoses.
Mealtimes were a bit of a lottery from that point forward. Trying to accurately identify the contents of an unlabelled tin by shaking it is quite difficult. I know that peaches and dog food sound remarkably similar but taste quite different.