Food labelling now easier to swallow
Business Live - Mar 3rd 2012, 12:20
South African consumers, already considered the most protected in the world from this week, have even more ammunition against vendors who peddle foods under misleading labels.
A new law, first announced in 2010 and commonly referred to as R146, regulates the labelling and advertising of foodstuffs in an effort to curb unsubstantiated claims.
After the Department of Health gave the food industry a grace period of 12 months, the final implementation deadline for the law was March 1.
"It is clear from these regulations that the underlying principle remains informing and protecting the consumer," said Yolandè van der Riet of the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa.
"Some sections that consumers could take cognisance of include date markings, ingredient declarations, allergen declarations and claims made," she said.
The law requires producers to substantiate any claims made on packaging within 48 hours.
"Claims such as fat-free, anti-oxidant, healthy and nutritious may not be used to describe food that does not meet special standards," said Burton Phillips, an associate at international law firm Norton Rose.
"The regulations apply to both packaged and non-packaged products. Food in a restaurant need not have a label, but all the required information must be available if a consumer asks," he said.
Food labelling was recently in the spotlight when Orion, a frozen meat company in Cape Town, was accused of re-labelling pork, buffalo and kangaroo meat as halaal when in fact it was not, causing an uproar in the Muslim community.
All imported food is included in the new law.
"Food labelling requirements and legislation often differ from country to country. It might therefore be required to amend the labelling of foodstuffs which are to be imported into South Africa, regardless of whether or not the current labelling is accepted elsewhere. But this is a general principle whenever food trade is involved," said Van der Riet.
Disclosure of the country of origin on imported foodstuffs is now compulsory.
"At all times, the food industry needs to ensure that the labelling and advertising of foodstuffs is both legal and ethical; and to make sure that every labelling aspect, from the word to the illustration, value, logo, etcetera, has true value to the consumer," said Van der Riet.
And while consumers can use the law to challenge claims made by food manufacturers, their competitors can do the same thing as well.
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