article | 29 May 2024

Labelling sausages “riktig korv” (eng. real sausage) was misleading

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A Swedish food company launched a new product range of sausages and labelled them “riktig korv” (eng. real sausage). According to the company, the sausages were special as they were free from sugar and preservatives and contained Swedish meat of good quality. The Swedish Food Agency found the labelling to be misleading.

According to the Agency, the ingredients of the sausages (free from sugar and preservatives but containing Swedish meat) did not differ to any great extent from other companies’ concepts. The authority therefore ruled in autumn 2023 that the labelling “riktig korv” was misleading as it gave the impression that the sausages of the company in question were real while other companies’ sausages with the same ingredients were not. The Agency based its ruling on Article 7 1 (a) and (c) of Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers that states that food information shall not be misleading, particularly, (a) as to the characteristics of the food and, in particular, as to its nature, identity, properties, composition, quantity, durability, country of origin or place of provenance, method of manufacture or production; and (c) by suggesting that the food possesses special characteristics when in fact all similar foods possess such characteristics, in particular by specifically emphasising the presence or absence of certain ingredients and/or nutrients. The company was instructed to stop using the labelling in the middle of January 2024, that is, within two months of the decision.

The company appealed the ruling. In the appeal, the company claimed in the first place that the ruling should be reversed as the labelling “riktig korv” was not misleading, and that in any case it was difficult for the company to understand what actions were to be taken, as the ruling did not define which products were concerned. In the second place, the company claimed that it should be allowed a period of adjustment of one year to enable the company to use up most of its stock of packaging.

Only a month after the ruling by the Swedish Food Agency, the Agency decided to reconsider its ruling, based on Swedish administrative law stating that a government agency can change its ruling if the ruling is obviously defective in any essential respect and that such a ruling may be changed quickly and easily and without detriment to a party. As a result of the reconsideration, the Agency reversed its decision, as it concluded that the decision was not precise enough. On those grounds, the Administrative Court dismissed the case as the Swedish Food Agency had changed its decision in line with the company’s appeal.

But the twists and turns did not stop there. In spring 2024, the Swedish Food Agency once again ruled that use of the labelling “riktig korv” was misleading, and a new ban was announced. In the new ruling, the Agency elaborated more on the misleading labelling vis-à-vis the claim that the product has no preservatives or added sugar. The Agency noted that use of preservatives is a way to combat growth of microorganisms and prolong the shelf-life of the product.  A sausage needs to be treated to inhibit the growth of microorganisms. This can be done, for example, by use of preservatives or with packaging with a protected atmosphere, or combination of different methods. The choice of method was not unique to the products in question and did not make them more “real” than other sausages. Also, there is no ban on use of preservatives, sugar or meat in sausages from countries other than Sweden. In addition, the Agency found that there are many companies that produce sausages with meat from Sweden without added sugar, and that that does not make these products unique. The Agency thus found that the information on the products is misleading to the consumer.

The difference from the first ruling was that the Agency now stated which products were affected, and that the company was allowed additional time to use the packaging still in stock. The company was now granted a period of one year to stop using the labelling “riktig korv”, i.e. until 31 January 2025.

However, the company appealed the new ruling, claiming that the Agency or the Administrative Court should amend its ruling to give the company an even longer period of adjustment, i.e. until 10 March 2025. This was because the recommended launch window for product range revisions for meat, deli products etc. in Sweden is set for 10 March 2025.  The Agency again decided to reconsider its ruling and granted the company an extended period to stop using the labelling “riktig korv”, until 10 March 2025, whereupon the company withdrew its appeal.

Although the twists and turns were many, it is thus clear that food must not be labelled in such a way that gives the impression that the product concerned is more genuine than other companies’ products with the same ingredients. If it is, the Swedish Food Agency may consider the labelling to be misleading. However, in this particular case the Agency did not find use of the labelling “riktig korv” serious enough to justify forcing the company to withdraw the product – on the contrary, the company was allowed to use up most of its packaging stock prior to launching the products without the labelling  “riktig korv”. We will therefore see the products concerned on the market for some time into 2025.

 

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