In a recent blog post I looked at Geographical Indications, which act as a label to distinguish the geographical origin of a product. When the consumer attributes certain characteristics, including quality and reputation, to be associated with products originating from a specific place, this form of IP right provides assurance that the product does indeed originate from that global location.
While researching for this current post I found an interesting article that raised the question of “fair labelling” in relation to the constitution of products. Specifically, a call by New Zealand Federated Farmers to restrict the use of meat and dairy terms to describe plant-based food products.
Legal Assurance as to the Origin of Products and Services
Various forms of legislation exist with the intention of ensuring consumers have accurate information as to the origins of the products and services they’re buying.
For example, trade marks and geographical indications provide assurance that a product or service originates from a particular company / entity or geographical location respectively.
Under the New Zealand Fair Trading Act, consumers are protected from various behaviours, including misleading or false statements as to the origin of products.
Current interest in this matter in New Zealand has been driven by trends overseas, including in both the European Union and Australia.
In the EU, terms such as steak, sausage, escalope, burger and hamburger may become designations reserved for meat-based products. Previously, in 2017, the European Court of Justice ruled that dairy terms, such as milk and butter, could not be used to sell soya and tofu products. Similar changes are being campaigned for in Australia.
There is an argument that the use of terms previously associated with meat-based products has now become common language when referring to non-meat products, and thus there is little or no consumer confusion.
However, with increasing consumer awareness of food origins as well as trends towards changing our diets, for example as a consequence of climate change, such restrictions on the labelling of certain products may facilitate a better-informed choice for the consumer.
Bainbridge D. (2012). “Intellectual Property.” 9th edn, Pearson Education Limited, Harlow, England.
Boffey D. (2019, April 04). “‘Veggie discs’ to replace veggie burgers in EU crackdown on food labels”. Retrieved November 14, 2019, from: https://www.theguardian.com/food/2019/apr/04/eu-to-ban-non-meat-product-labels-veggie-burgers-and-vegan-steaks
Burry M. (2019, July 31). “Federated Farmers quest for ‘fair labelling’ of plant-based products: ‘Call it almond juice’”. Retrieved November 03, 2019, from: https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/395689/federated-farmers-quest-for-fair-labelling-of-plant-based-products-call-it-almond-juice
Curson A. (2019, September 03). “Geographical Indications – Implications of a New Zealand / EU Trade Deal on Product Names”. Retrieved November 03, 2019, from: http://adcpatentsearch.co.nz/IP_Analytics_NZ/?p=240
Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. “Consumer Protection: misleading prices or advertising”. Retrieved November 14, 2019, from: https://www.consumerprotection.govt.nz/general-help/common-consumer-issues/misleading-prices-or-advertising/
New Zealand Fair Trading Act 1986. Retrieved November 14, 2019, from: http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/1986/0121/latest/DLM96439.html
New Zealand Intellectual Property Office. “Geographical Indications”. Retrieved November 14, 2019, from: https://www.iponz.govt.nz/about-ip/geographical-indications/
Thomas D. (2019, June 19). “Would you call this a vegetable tube?”. Retrieved November 14, 2019, from: https://www.bbc.com/news/business-48676145
Worthington B. (2018, October 11). “Federal Government pushes to stop plant-based products labelled as ‘meat’ or ‘milk’”. Retrieved November 14, 2019, from: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-10-11/federal-government-wants-food-standards-reviewed/10360200