The purpose of certifying foods is manyfold and it needs to be very dependable. Some people have specific health issues and need to be certain that the process will exclude certain food elements and products. If certifying food is about raising money, the risk of incorrect certification could be high, with some choosing to apply a principle of the end justifies the means.
The classic case is the claim that the Heart Foundation Tick was being used on certain McDonald’s products because the organisation had paid for the right to use it, regardless of whether the food so certified was heart healthy. This could have major consequences for those choosing to eat heart healthy foods based on a trust of the Heart Foundation Tick.
We need to know that food that is labelled as low in salt is in fact low in salt and how low that is. In today’s world where advertising is all about a pitch to the buyer we need truth. We also need to know that the claim made is verifiable. Again I recall a claim that all the beef in McDonald’s hamburgers was 100% beef – This was in my view misleading for many assumed that the beef pattie was 100% beef but the pattie had many things in it it was just that the beef itself was 100% beef; this did not exclude other meats could be in the mix and as such lamb, pork or chicken could have been present and the add was still true BUT the idea created was vastly different than the actual words stated. The words said nothing at all – just that beef was beef.
There have been claims that certain certification is in fact a front for the collection of funds for the support of extreme activities being carried out in the name of a religious doctrine. We need to know if purchasing a product is providing support for any such activities.
I strongly recommend that we introduce a national register of product certification and food labelling where any product that is to be certified is registered and full details of the process to be disclosed. The disclosed information must include:
- The purpose of the certification
- Who are requiring the certification
- Who will be administering the certification
- The need for the certification
- The whole process of the certification in detail
- The process of the determining that the product is compliant to the certification
- Any cost involved in the certification to be publically disclosed.
- The purpose of any funds raised via the certification and the process of how that money trail can be verified.
- A certification process may be put in place for a secondary purpose – for example to raise funds for a health research purpose; to assist disadvantage groups to earn real income (as in the fair trade movement)
- If additional funds are raised that are greater than required to fulfil the primary purposes then what is expected to happen to those funds needs to be verifiable.
- How business will be invited to become involved in the certification process.
- Certification symbols must be clearly predominantly marked on the outside of the package.
- All business involved in the certifying process must not be compelled in any way to be involved; – it must be a voluntary association -.
- It cannot be used for an illegal purpose or to raise funds for an illegal purpose
- The complete details of the certification to be available for public scrutiny; and a list of all products certified need to be kept up to date and available for public scrutiny.
- A list of any company that has any products that are certified detailing all the certified products and the management of separation of non-certified products that maybe being produced or handled and the certified products.
- Punitive sanctions must be made for breaches of established regulations.
Such a certifying body must be a national body as there is so much movement of products between states. It will also need to determine if products being imported that they be compliant to any associated certification. The confusion over the Made in Australia, packed in Australia or any other Australian branded products needs to be sorted out. Some may be prepared to pay more for a product that will support Australian industry and yet some products are only re-packaged in Australia with claims of being Australian. There is also some business that are Australian owned business that do all of their production in other countries; we need to be able to distinguish what we may choose to support.
In Summary we must be fully able to know if a claim is independently verifiable and that a marketing claim of certification is in fact honest. For example if a claim of “lower in salt” is made we need to know from what is lower in salt claim made. We must know what “reduced fat” means and so on and so forth. If an advertising claim is made without certification we then will know that the claim is just an attention seeking advertising statement of possibly no truth. Honesty must become the new marketing standard as so many claims are made every day and so as to determine what is advertising and what is truth we need to establish a new standard of truth that is external to the current business practices.
It must be noted that to some extent the certification of food and the labelling of food products is intricately inter-wound so that at times there is little if any discernible distinction; perhaps the main distinction is one may be represented by a symbol while the other is represented by statements and both can be harmful if the truth is not clearly stated. People’s lives can be at risk if we continue down the path we are going. We must know that processes are dependable and if not, be able to avoid those that may compromise both our health and any relevant belief structure that a consumer may have.