Asda wins fight over ‘nasty’ sweetener

Author: By Stephen Howard, Press Association

Ajinomoto Sweeteners, a leading producer of aspartame, took action after Asda
announced in 2007 that it would become the first supermarket in Britain to
remove artificial colours and flavours from its own brand labels.

In publicity for its “Good for you” range, Asda promised: “No hidden nasties –
no artificial colours or flavours, no aspartame and no hydrogenated fats”.

Ajinomoto accused Asda at the High Court in London of malicious falsehood and
said it was trying to protect the reputation of its products. The firm has a
45 per cent share of the European aspartame market.

But today Mr Justice Tugendhat ruled that the words complained of – on food
packaging and a cola drink – did not mean that aspartame was potentially
harmful or unhealthy.

He said the publicity was trying to convey the message “if you the customer
think that aspartame may be bad for you, or unpleasant to taste or consume,
then this product is for you”.

The judge said Ajinomoto had claimed that the words meant that aspartame is
either an especially or potentially harmful and unhealthy sweetener and one
which consumers concerned with their health would do well to avoid.

“The claimant claims that if such statements continue to be made by Asda, then
shoppers will be scared of buying products containing aspartame and the
claimant will lose sales.”

Mr Justice Tugendhat said the case was not just about profits and there was a
public interest involved.

“If aspartame is safe, which I have no reason to doubt, then it would be a
loss to the public, and deprive them of freedom of choice, if it were to
become stigmatised for no good reason.”

He said the adjective “nasty” could mean anything from “unpleasant” to
“dangerous” and coupling the word “Good for you” and “nasty” was inviting
approval of products which did not contain aspartame and disapproval of
those that did.

“No reasonable reader could understand the words as a statement by Asda that
all artificial colours and flavours are especially or actually harmful or
unhealthy.”

He entered judgment for Asda but it will not be enforced for three weeks to
give Ajinomoto time to consider an appeal.

In a statement, Asda welcomed the ruling and renewed a call for other
manufacturers and retailers to remove artificial additives from food and
soft drinks.

Darren Blackhurst, Asda’s chief merchandising officer, said: “Naturally, this
is a sweet victory. We’re in the business of listening to our customers and
they’ve told us loud and clear that they don’t want unnecessary, artificial
additives in their food.

“That’s why we introduced our ‘no nasties’ guarantee to give our customers 100
per cent confidence they can buy any of our own-label food or soft drink
products knowing that they’re free from all artificial colours and flavours,
aspartame and hydrogenated vegetable oils.

“Put simply, we’ve got the cleanest own-label products in Britain and today’s
ruling means we can carry on telling our customers that.

“Now we’ve proved it can be done, there’s no excuse for other retailers and
manufacturers not to follow our lead.”

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