United front needed to tackle food labelling

Compliance labelling dtiA well co-ordinated approach is needed to effectively enforce food labelling regulations in the country, says the National Consumer Commission (NCC).

Speaking at a seminar on food labelling and consumer protection in South Africa, NCC deputy commissioner Thezi Mabuza says that since food labelling and advertising regulations were passed in March 2010, all labels and advertising of food products in the country must be compliant. However, trends and developments in labelling of food products in the consumer market show major consumer rights violations within the context of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA).

‘In the past, South African food manufacturers, distributors and retailers used marketing strategies that misled the consumer, not only directly with blatant untruths printed on labels but also by misleading the consumer with half-truths. Today, legislation protects consumers against the risks and consequences of misrepresentation and non-compliance with food labelling regulations, and non-compliance can have serious implications for all involved in the value chain,’ Mabuza explains.

In the context of food products, the consumer is entitled to products which have the characteristics indicated on the packaging and in marketing, and must have a reasonable shelf-life. The products should always comply with all agricultural products standards, food labelling requirements and compulsory specifications.

Mabuza feels that consumer protection regulators and interest groups must form a united front to educate consumers. ‘Approaches to effectively enforce food labelling regulations in the country would require coordination of consumer protection activities with, and not limited to, the Department of Health (DOH). In essence, the objective is to create an equal platform for all products to state only facts.’

Claims of health benefits made on food supplements and complementary medicines must also be backed by scientific evidence or be removed from marketing, advertising and labelling.    

‘It’s about food safety and consumer protection, especially among disadvantaged consumers. All food products should be safe and contain no foreign objects, and must not be produced using any undesirable additives or packed in material which would detract from the safety or suitability thereof. Most importantly, it’s about consumer empowerment and to allow the consumers to make an informed decision before purchasing a product,’ Mabuza concludes.