Monday, 8 March 2010

Very Vague Vegetarian Versions


I follow a strict set of dietary laws, so I was quite interested to read this week’s ASA Directorate ruling on what food qualifies as “vegetarian”.

A consumer lodged a complaint regarding the wording on a Wimpy menu above a burger which states: “Remove the meat for a vegetarian option”. The complainant submitted that the removal of the meat alone would not create a vegetarian option, as the onions that form part of the recipe are fried on the same grill as the meat and that the meat would contaminate the onions. The relevant clause of the Code of Advertising Practice is Clause 4.2.1, which deals with misleading claims.

It was not disputed by the Respondent that the onions were fried on the same grill as meat and chicken, however it pointed out that the onions were fried after the grill had been scraped to remove residue from the meat. It pointed out, further, that the advertisement refers to an item which is described as “vegetarian friendly” which does not imply that it is exclusively vegetarian. It submitted that it could be expected of a reasonable vegetarian consumer to inspect the place where the product was being prepared in order to ensure that there was no chance of contamination by meat before, during or after cooking.

In a previous ruling where the wording “suitable for vegetarians” was considered, the Directorate had found that there was such diversity in opinions as to what constituted “vegetarian” that it could be expected of a reasonable vegetarian consumer to inspect a product to ensure that it “falls within a particular vegetarian category ascribed to”.

The Directorate accordingly found in this case that because the use of the word “vegetarian” is not regulated or required to be used in any particular way, that the Wimpy menu item is not misleading and the complaint was dismissed.

It is somewhat disappointing that neither the ASA nor the Department of Health has provided guidelines for vegetarian claims, which I believe may be welcomed by vegetarian consumers. Even with diversity among vegetarians as to what qualifies as “vegetarian”, perhaps guidelines following a strict interpretation of the word would assist vegetarian consumers in making food selections.

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