A court in Sweden has banned European dairy major Arla Foods from using the term “net-zero climate footprint” in the marketing of its products sold in the country.

The Patent and Market Court has agreed with the country’s consumer watchdog, the Konsumentombudsmannen (KO), that the claims made by the Denmark-headquartered Lurpak butter and Castello cheese producer are misleading.

Arla is considering whether to appeal against the decision.

In a statement revealing its ruling, the court said: “The court follows the consumer ombudsman’s line and prohibits Arla from using the expression net zero climate footprint and similar claims in the marketing of dairy products.

“The Patent and Market Court, like KO, thinks that the company’s advertising misleadingly gives the impression that the product does not give rise to any climate footprint at all. Or that the consumer gets the impression that the company has fully compensated the climate impact caused by the product, despite the fact that it has not been proven to be true.”

The court said it does not believe that consumers understand Arla’s promise of net zero is based on climate-compensating activities that could take 100 years to compensate for the climate footprint of milk production.

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Welcoming the court’s decision, Ida Nyström, process counsel at KO, said: “The ruling is good because many consumers want to shop with regard to the environment but may find it difficult to know what climate footprint a product leaves. Therefore, it is extra important that companies take their responsibility and do not exaggerate in advertising.”

The judgment carries with it a fine of SEK1m (US$94,280) if the company violates the ban. The court said Arla has already discontinued net-zero advertising.

In a statement sent to Just Food responding to the court’s decision, Victoria Olsson, head of sustainability at Arla Sweden, said: “We are disappointed in the ruling. It was never our intention to mislead anyone. At the same time, the ruling confirms that sustainability is a complicated topic to communicate on and that clearer guidelines are needed.

“Although we followed all given rules and standards, it was not enough. We now need to analyse the ruling before deciding whether to appeal.”