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In the absence of a legal definition of bee-friendliness, advertising body rules claims of bee-friendly seedless citrus are misleading

Ambiguity around citrus claims of bee-friendliness

The South African Advertising Regulatory Board (ARB)’s ruling in favour of the complainant on the purported bee-friendliness of a seedless citrus cultivar has highlighted the ambiguity around claims of bee-friendliness in the citrus industry.

A complaint was lodged by Citrogold that the marketing claim around Tango mandarins' bee-friendliness was not based on scientific evidence nor could it be verified. In their response. Stargrow Marketing and Eurosemillas SA (owner of the Tango brand) posited that the cultivar’s parthenocarpy (seedlessness) made it unnecessary to prevent cross-pollination through killing pollinating insects during flowering, according to the ARB ruling.

“While the Complainant [Citrogold] made several references to the fact that the Tango product is sprayed with insecticides harmful to bees, the Advertiser [Stargrow Marking and Eurosemillas SA] in its response does nothing to refute this assertion,” the ARB ruling continues. The advertising body took issue with the claim by the advertisers that their use of phytoregulators is “reduced”, but not eliminated. “The product may therefore cause less harm to bees than seeded varieties, but this does not equate to being ‘bee-friendly’ as the consumer would understand it.”

The Tango packaging ruled to be misleading to consumers

However, neither Stargrow Marketing in South Africa nor Eurosemillas SA, owner of the Tango brand, is a member of the Advertising Regulatory Board and therefore the ARB’s ruling is not binding on them and the packaging is still in use. Stargrow Marketing could not be reached for comment, despite various attempts.

“The reason we approached the advertising authorities is because we know that growers of Tango are applying the same sort of chemicals as growers of other cultivars of soft citrus like clementines and Nadorcotts,” explains Dr Viresh Ramburan, executive director of Citrogold.

“We were open to hear their arguments on which standards they use to qualify that their product is bee-friendly. We didn’t think they had such standards in place and it seems that we were right. Claiming that Tango fruit is bee-friendly without any qualification or standard in this regards is misleading to consumers and seeks to obtain an unfair advantage in the market for their product.”

Bee industry experts have pointed out that there is no legal definition of what constitutes a bee-friendly product.


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