Consumers are still being misled by the use of terms such as 'fresh' and 'natural' on some food labels, according to the results of a nationwide survey carried out on behalf of the UK's Food Standards Agency.

The FSA said that while many manufactures are following its best practice guidance on the clearest way to use such terms, the labelling of over a third of the samples examined (40%) were still considered to be misleading or ambiguous.

In July 2002, the FSA issued advice on the use of eight marketing terms currently used on food labels in the UK: fresh, pure, natural, traditional, original, authentic, home made and farmhouse. This guidance described when and how these terms should be used, in a bid to ensure that consumers are not misled.

"We know that consumers often place particular value on terms like fresh, pure and natural when buying food. They rightly expect foods labelled with these terms to be different in some way from products that don't carry these types of descriptions," said Rosemary Hignett, the FSA's head of food labelling and standards.

"For instance, they don't expect items labelled fresh to have a four-week shelf life, they don't expect items labelled as pure to have added ingredients and they don't expect products with ingredients described as natural to have used artificial preservatives and additives," she continued.

Hignett said that while many manufacturers appear to be taking account of the FSA's guidelines, others still have a long way to go.

"We will now be looking at ways to encourage a greater uptake of the guidance and thereby ensure that the interests of consumers are better protected," she added.

However, Martin Paterson, deputy director general of the Food and Drink Federation, said UK food and drink manufacturers did not set out to mislead consumers.

"UK food and drink manufacturers rely on the loyalty and trust of their customers and in no way set out to mislead.  Indeed, the 1990 Food Safety Act, protects consumers from misleading or false claims," Paterson said.

"However, in a highly competitive market, manufacturers try and differentiate their products, many of which are based on traditional recipes and production methods.

"FDF has advised its members of the FSA guidance and is always looking at improving the information it provides to consumers on and off pack," he concluded.

To read a recent just-food.com feature article on food marketing terms, click here.