Crab paste which contains more mackerel than crab, butter puff biscuits which contain no butter, and 85 per cent fat-free foods with five times more fat than government guidelines all came under fire yesterday from the Consumers' Association.

Crab paste which contains more mackerel than crab, butter puff biscuits which contain no butter, and 85 per cent fat-free foods with five times more fat than government guidelines all came under fire yesterday from the Consumers' Association.

The watchdog is challenging food manufacturers to make product labels "honest and clear" instead of "confusing and sometimes misleading". Phrases such as "farm fresh", "fat free" and "lite" were often used in misleading ways, researchers found.

Ingredients sometimes did not tally with the main product being advertised, such as a pasta by Bestfoods UK Ltd, which featured chicken prominently on the label, but only contained 1 per cent chicken.

Health claims on many products represented nothing more than a "marketing gimmick" and nutritional information was sometimes absent, it was claimed. Among the offenders were Walkers Lite! Crisps, advertised as "33 per cent less fat" but still containing 22 per cent fat overall. The "less fat" figure was compared with Walkers' standard crisps.

Similarly, Ocean Spray – "pure juice of cranberry with grape and apple" by Gerber Foods Soft Drinks Ltd – contained 50 per cent grape, 28 per cent apple and just 22 per cent cranberry, researchers found.

Sheila McKechnie, director of the Consumers' Association, accused manufacturers of "obeying the letter but not the spirit of the law" and called on the Food Standards Agency and the European Union to do more to regulate them.

Martin Paterson, deputy director general of the Food and Drink Federation, which represents manufacturers, insisted that they did not set out to mislead.

He said: "They do have to try and get across as much information to consumers on what can sometimes be a very small space."

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