UK supermarket chain Asda has been fined £5,000 (US$9,194) for breaking labelling rules by claiming mangoes help to fight cancer.

The case, brought by Swindon Borough Council, related to a label found in the mango section of the Swindon Haydon branch of ASDA in June 2003 that read: "Mangoes are a great source of vitamin C and beta carotene which are good for healthy eyes and skin. Their antioxidant properties help to fight cancer."

The supermarket chain pleaded guilty to allegations it had breached 1996 labelling regulations that prevent retailers claiming that a food prevents, treats or cures a disease. Asda said the label was produced in good faith in an effort to encourage consumer to eat more fruit and vegetables.

Asda, owned by US retail titan Wal-Mart, said it would be writing to Health Minister John Reid and Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Public Health Melanie Johnson to ask for their help in clarifying the law.

"This prosecution has massive implications - any retailer wishing to promote the health virtues of fruit and vegetables risks being hauled up in front of a court and becoming entangled in outdated laws designed to catch bogus potion peddlers," Asda said.

Penny Coates, Asda's private label director, added: "We're in the dock for saying that fruit is good for you - the law is a fruit basket and needs to be changed now."

To support its initial claims, Asda cited a Department of Health press release from November 2000, which stated: "Evidence shows that diet is the second biggest contributor to deaths from cancer and heart disease, after smoking, and that eating at least five portions of fruit and vegetables can significantly reduce the risk of asthma, heart disease and cancer."

The company also quoted Secretary of State for Health Alan Milburn at the launch of the Fruit For Schools scheme in February 2001: "Tackling cancer and heart disease means investing in prevention as well as treatment. Experts agree that eating fruit and vegetables is the second most effective way to prevent cancer and heart disease after reducing smoking."