New Guidance for Using the Term 'Butter' in Fat Spreads

Thursday, 21 January 2016

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) today published a guidance note on "The Use of the Term ‘Butter’ in the Labelling and Advertising of Fat Spreads" to aid in the compliance by the food industry with relevant food law. The ultimate aim is to ensure that consumers are not misled and that when ‘butter’ is used, it complies with the specific and general legislation governing its use. The guidance document is available on www.fsai.ie and was developed in light of a complaint received by the FSAI which indicated that some fat spreads were using the term ‘butter’ in marketing materials when it was not appropriate.

According to Dr Pat O’Mahony, Chief Specialist in Food Technology, FSAI butter is defined as a churned-cream dairy product consisting primarily of milk fat, water, non-fat milk material and if necessary, salt.

    “Specific EU legislation is in place that establishes a common organisation of the markets in agricultural products. A section of this legislation is dedicated to ‘milk and milk products’, whereby products like butter and other types of fat spread are clearly defined. The legal onus is on food businesses to ensure that they are compliant with all relevant legislation so that consumers can have trust in the product they are purchasing and make informed choices using reliable information. To assist food businesses, the FSAI has developed this guidance document which identifies the various pieces of legislation that must be considered when labelling and marketing fat spreads, particularly those that can use the term ‘butter’”.

   “By setting out the pertinent legislation in the guidance document, we are making it easier for food businesses to avoid the apparent confusion that currently prevails in relation to what constitutes ‘butter’, as compared to the variety of other fat spreads on the market. In addition, it is made clear that general food labelling legislation in place since 2011, prohibits the use of any labels or advertising that could mislead consumers. This means that food businesses must carefully consider using the term ‘butter’ or derived terms such as ‘buttery’ or ‘butterly’ so that consumers are not misled in terms of the nature of the product on offer. The guidance document is not prescriptive in terms of what can or cannot be used on the labelling or advertising of fat spreads, as the legislation is very clear on this for the most part,” continued Dr O’Mahony.

The guidance document also provides a number of conclusions that highlight specific issues for food businesses to consider when they are labelling and advertising their fat spreads, along with certain advice that should help them to fully comply with the legislation.

    “It is natural that marketing specialists will use every means at their disposal to gain a competitive edge over their rivals, but this must not be achieved at the expense of consumers’ trust. We hope that our guidance document will assist the industry to comply with the complex legislation in this area, so that consumers can be confident that the foods they purchase and consume are accurately and truthfully described on the label or in associated advertising,” concluded Dr O’Mahony.

Guidance Note No. 30: The Use of the Term ‘Butter’ in the Labelling and Advertising of Fat Spreads