UK food and toiletries face scrutiny over ‘green’ claims

The UK competition watchdog is to examine potential greenwashing in the sale of food and other household essentials such as shampoo and toothpaste, expanding a crackdown that follows a proliferation of products sold as kinder to the environment.

The Competition and Markets Authority said on Thursday that it would examine food and drink, cleaning products, toiletries, and personal care items for issues including “vague and broad eco-statements” and “entire ranges being incorrectly branded as ‘sustainable’.”

It may open an investigation into specific companies if evidence suggests green claims could be unfounded.

The watchdog has already taken aim at the fashion industry, examining claims made by Asos, Boohoo and Asda, while the advertising regulator has censured Tesco, Innocent Drinks and Oatly for what it said were unsubstantiated or misleading claims.

The clampdown echoes measures by the EU to combat greenwashing, including draft legislation that would require green claims to be backed up with evidence. The European Commission has found that more than half of such claims are misleading.

The CMA action follows an increase in green claims on products globally as multinationals work towards net zero goals and consumers opt to buy items they perceive as more sustainable.

One US study found that in the four years to 2019, 16 per cent of consumer goods products were marketed for their sustainability, yet they accounted for more than half of the sector’s growth.

CMA chief executive Sarah Cardell warned companies to review their practices and “make sure they’re operating within the law”.

“These products are the essentials on everyone’s shopping lists: food and drink, shampoo, laundry detergent, toothpaste, cleaning products,” she added.

“As more people than ever try to do their bit to help protect the environment, we’re concerned many shoppers are being misled and potentially even paying a premium for products that aren’t what they seem, especially at a time when the cost of living continues to rise.”

The CMA said other worrying practices included “marketing a product as ‘sustainable’ or ‘better for the environment’ with no evidence [or] misleading claims about the use of recycled or natural materials in a product and how recyclable it is”.

Tesco was last year forced to withdraw an advertisement for products in its Plant Chef range after the Advertising Standards Authority said it held no evidence to back up claims that its plant-based burgers and other foods had a positive impact on the environment compared with meat.

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