Fresh concerns have been raised over whether the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is being used to enforce food law by making decisions about complex scientific and legal issues outside its skillset.
As the ASA partly upheld a complaint against Tetley GB over its use of the phrase, "it's full of antioxidants" in an advert for its green tea, Tetley's director of compliance Gordon Hayburn said: "The ASA is straying into the area of food law enforcement, which is not within its remit nor area of expertise."
The ASA was not in a position to judge the efficacy of antioxidant health claims, which were, in any case, subject to a lengthy scientific review process by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) under the EU Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation, added Hayburn.
"EFSA is currently reviewing very detailed scientific dossiers on the health benefits of antioxidants in a wide range of foods and it is inappropriate for the ASA to comment on health benefits at this time.
"It is also important to note that almost every health professional acknowledges the importance of antioxidants in the diet and that those from tea, in addition to those from fruit and vegetables, can all play an important part of a healthy diet.
"Given the amount of scientific evidence suggesting that green tea can be good for health, we challenge the ASA's conclusions and are disappointed by its final adjudication."
The ruling comes hot on the heels of the ASA's decision to uphold complaints against Müller over its use of the word 'natural'. This prompted legal experts to accuse it of usurping the constitutional role of the courts and enforcing food law "by the back door"
The Tetley green tea ad featured a woman deciding to skip a jogging session owing to bad weather and stay at home with a cup of green tea instead. It also used the phrase: "it's full of antioxidants", which the complainants argued implied the tea had greater health benefits than it did.
The ASA said: "The ad implied that the tea had some general health benefits beyond hydration, in particular because it contained antioxidants. As we had not seen any evidence to demonstrate that green tea, or the antioxidants in it, had general health benefits, we concluded that the ad was misleading."
Its ruling has widespread ramifications, given the large number of products on the market currently making antioxidant claims.