New Zealand Law Society - Farmland Foods fined for misleading customers about country of origin

Farmland Foods fined for misleading customers about country of origin

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Smallgoods producer Farmland Foods has been fined $180,000 in the Palmerston North District Court for misleading consumers about the place of origin of some of its ham products.

In an emailed press release, the Commerce Commission says the company pleaded guilty and was convicted on three charges under the Fair Trading Act relating to labelling on packaging of three sizes of its ‘Heritage Cooked on the Bone’ ham products, which were sold between 1 October 2015 and 1 September 2018. 

The packaging labels contained claims such as:

  •  “100% NZ owned, Farmland Fresh, made in the country.”
  • “It’s made in the country in our on-farm processing facility located in the ‘untouched’ Rangitikei region, adjacent to the Santoft forest and within the Pukepapa rainfall catchment area.”
  • “Our products are made in the country on our family farm in select batches ensuring freshness every time …”
  • “If it’s Farmland you can be sure it comes from the best nature has to offer. Made by New Zealanders, for New Zealanders … it’s where good things grow.”
  • Gluten Free Produced in New Zealand.”

The Commerce Commission says the combination of the imagery, choice of words and overall presentation of the Farmland Foods’ packaging in close proximity to references to New Zealand(ers), the country farm and a Bulls address on the packaging, gave consumers the false impression that the products were made from New Zealand reared pork, when the majority of the pork was actually imported.

Commission Chair Anna Rawlings says country of origin claims are very difficult for consumers to verify, so businesses must ensure references made on food packaging are clear and not misleading.

“None of the packaging on these ham products indicated that imported pork was used to make them. Instead, the packaging gave consumers a false impression that the key pork meat ingredient was reared in New Zealand, when in actual fact 87% of it was imported,” she says.

“Accurate information on packaging is important for consumers who rely on the information. Some people are often willing to pay a premium for products they believe are New Zealand made, and for some this also represents an important ethical decision.”

The Commission says, in sentencing, Judge Rowe said the representations involved a "significant departure from the truth."  He said, “It is likely that shoppers are moved more by impression than analysis” and that “the public is entitled to a high degree of care in relation to their interests and the confidence they may place in business in New Zealand."

Farmland Foods apologises

Famland Foods released a statement after its appearance in court. It said it would update its packaging to ensure it meets the Consumer Information Standards made under the Consumers’ Right to Know (Country of Origin of Food) Act 2018 "as soon as they are published”.

“We accept the sentence imposed by the Court on the Commerce Commission’s charges. We are pleased the judge recognised our good character, contribution to the community and reputation for trading with integrity. We’re sorry this has happened and want to apologise to anyone potentially affected by this issue,” the company said.

“We have undertaken a full internal review of our design processes to ensure our packaging meets the required standards and clearly shows the origin of our ingredients."