[SYDNEY] Australia's consumer watchdog Tuesday launched court action against food giant Heinz, claiming it had made false representations about the health value of its Little Kids Shredz products for toddlers.
The company disputed the allegations and vowed to fight them.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission said the products' packaging featured prominent images of fresh fruit and vegetables and statements such as '99% fruit and veg'.
It alleges the images and statements make out that the products are of equivalent nutritional value to fruit and vegetables and are a healthy and nutritious food for children aged one to three.
"The ACCC has brought these proceedings because it alleges that Heinz is marketing these products as healthy options for young children when they are not," ACCC chairman Rod Sims said in a statement.
"These products contain over 60 per cent sugar, which is significantly higher than that of natural fruit and vegetables - for example, an apple contains approximately 10 per cent sugar."
He said the ACCC would also allege that rather than encouraging children to develop a taste for nutritious food, "these Heinz Shredz products are likely to inhibit the development of a child's taste for natural fruit and vegetables".
Instead they "encourage a child to become accustomed to, and develop a preference for, sweet tastes," Mr Sims added.
Heinz denied the allegations and said it would challenge them.
"Heinz takes labelling of products very seriously and complies with all Australian labelling and food laws," the company told AFP.
"While the product in question is no longer on the market, we strenuously deny the allegations made by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and look forward to defending our position."
The ACCC said its action followed a complaint by advocacy group Obesity Policy Coalition about food products for toddlers that make fruit and vegetable claims but are predominantly made from fruit juice concentrate and pastes.
The World Health Organisation recommends limiting the intake of foods containing fruit juice concentrate to reduce the risk of obesity and tooth decay.
The Shredz product range includes three varieties: 'peach apple and veg', 'berries apple and veg', and 'strawberry & apple with chia seeds'.
The ACCC is seeking injunctions, pecuniary penalties, corrective notices and costs.