Foodwatch – a non-profit consumer organisation watching over the products of Food & Beverage producers

22 April 2010

Janneke Kohlen

At the beginning of this year – January 2010 – Foodwatch introduced itself in The Netherlands. Foodwatch is an initiative of Thilo Bode, a former director of Greenpeace International and first started in Germany in 2002. Foodwatch claims on its website to be very successful in Germany where thousands of people support their work. This success was decisive for starting in The Netherlands as well.

Foodwatch introduced itself in The Netherlands by being one of the guests in a Dutch TV-show – Kassa – in which consumer rights are subject of discussion and investigation. Foodwatch is an independent non-profit organisation and represents the interests of consumers in the Food & Beverage market. Foodwatch operates independently from the Dutch or German government and from the Food & Beverage industry. It depends on donations from consumers and certain independent funds.

Foodwatch claims to be “the organisation” that stands for consumer interests regarding healthy and good food. Food & Beverage producers should inform consumers correctly on the substance of their products and should not persuade consumers to buy their product by stating that their products contain “no fat”, “low calories” or are “good for your heart” etc. if this is not true. Foodwatch investigates and reveals unhealthy and harmful products and misleading statements of Food & Beverage producers. After an investigation, Foodwatch informs the Food & Beverage producer and demands that they put an end to the misleading information provision or improve the substance of their products.

For example, Foodwatch investigated food products in Germany, such as potato crisps, in which they suspected that the harmful substance acrylamide had been processed. Acrylamide caused cancer to laboratory animals and is therefore considered to be very harmful for consumers. The investigation revealed that the suspicion of Foodwatch was correct. According to Foodwatch, this investigation contributed to a reduction of this harmful substance in food products in Germany.

As mentioned, Foodwatch also investigates whether certain health statements or marketing slogans on packaging material or in TV-commercials are actually true. For example, Foodwatch investigates whether fruit juices that claim to have been prepared from fresh fruit and are full of fresh fruit, actually do contain more than one fresh strawberry. Or if a producer in a commercial stipulates that the product only contains ingredients which are purely from “mother nature” and hence, do not contain any (chemical) additives, actually do not contain such additives.

If the investigation reveals that the statements on packaging material or in TV-commercials cannot be upheld, Foodwatch publishes this on its special website called “Misleid!” which means “Deceived!”. Not something to wish for if you are a Food & Beverage producer.

Therefore, we believe that the start of Foodwatch in The Netherlands is a development in the Food & Beverage industry which should be taken into account by companies which are active in that sector or at least the awareness of the presence of such organisation should be there. For now, Foodwatch is only active in Germany and The Netherlands but if it turns out to be a success in The Netherlands as well – as it turned out to be in Germany – there is a realistic change that they will expand their activities to other countries in Europe.

Please note that Foodwatch is a private non-profit organisation and therefore has no investigative powers which are granted by law and cannot fine companies, contrary to public authorities such as the Voedsel- en Waren Autoriteit (Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority). Furthermore, it is questionable what the added value of Foodwatch is in The Netherlands since we already have the Voedsel- en Waren Autoriteit which monitors/investigates the same issues as Foodwatch and functions well. However, this does not alter the fact that an “investigation” conducted by Foodwatch should be taken seriously since the reputational damage can be significant.