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New food labelling regulations become law

After many long years in the debating, compiling and amending, South Africa’s new food labelling regulations have finally become law, with Regulation R146 published in the Government Gazette of March 1, 2010.

The regulations Governing the Labelling and Advertising of Foodstuffs are part of the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics & Disinfectants Act (Act 54 of 1972) which controls the sale, manufacture and importation of all foodstuffs within South Africa. This Act is regulated by the Department of Health (DoH). The old regulations (from 1993) were outdated and the intention was to replace them with more effective rules to strengthen the effectiveness of food labelling legislation, close all known “loopholes” and incorporate new developments resulting from scientific research as well as international Codex Standards and Guidelines. Hence the compilation of the new regulations by DoH’s Directorate: Food Control (DFC).

The majority of regulations will come into operation 12 months after the date of final publication.

R146 focuses on several strategies to improve public health through healthy food choices and improved nutrition through special food formulations, which are based on the latest available scientific evidence. It also plays a role in assisting consumers with reliable label information to make informed choices about healthier food options because healthier food choices are an integral part of a healthy lifestyle.

These regulations also seek to implement the Food and Agriculture Organisation and World Health Organisation’s Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health. Aspects such as a more extensive list of definitions, prohibited and misleading statements, prescribed letter sizes, product naming, batch identification, date markings, nutrition claims (prescribed wordings and cut-off values), allergens, nutritional information and ingredient listings are some of the many other aspects they address.

Only the less complex and controversial aspects of the intended regulations have been published, while several other issues are on hold pending further developments, reports and scientific data. These aspects include:

i) A Nutrient Profiling Model: publication of an EU model is awaited and a literature survey of all other models in use will be considered in developing the South African model. This model for South Africa will affect all health and nutrition claims and the foods that may qualify to make any of these claims.

2) Health claims: the effect on the labelling regulations of the draft Complementary Medicines Regulations, published for comment in August 2008, is potentially so significant that no further work can be done until the latter is finally published and its impact has been assessed.

3) Serving sizes. These will be dependent on the nutrient profiling model that is agreed upon.

4) Marketing of foods to children. The DFC is not going to reinvent the wheel in this regard, and is waiting for World Health Organisation recommendations.

5) Trans fats. A private bill on the issue of trans fats was introduced at a committee meeting of Parliament towards the end of 2008. This means that trans fats will be covered by a totally different regulation.

6) Glycemic index. The DFC is awaiting for the adoption by the SA National Standards (SANS) of an international ISO method that has been established to determine the GI of a product or foodstuff.

7) Front-of-Pack labelling. The issue, one which has arisen recently, is not included in the draft regulations. This will be an outcome of the nutrient profiling model and but the DFC has said only one type of FOP labelling will be approved.

Another interesting and contentious change is that the new regulations only allow for the use of the word “flavours/ing” or “flavourant” and “colourant” irrespective of the type of flavour or colourant being used. So it will be goodbye to any marketing gain/loss to be had from using “natural flavours/colourants” or “artificial flavours/colourants”.

Download the new regulations and their backing guidelines at

Some commentary:

“The South African Association for Food Science and Technology (SAAFoST) welcomes the publishing of the long-awaited Labelling and Advertising of Foodstuffs Regulations. Food professionals countrywide look forward to working with the new regulations and towards putting them to the test in the interests of maximising consumer value and benefit. SAAFoST also looks forward to making its specialist expertise available in facilitating the fast tracking the more contentious “phase two” of the regulations, a draft of which will still have to be published for comment – some time soon, hopefully. This second part deals with nutrient profiling, health claims, marketing to children, serving sizes and dietary guidelines on labels – complex and often emotional issues that have had to be very carefully deliberated.”

Rosie Maguire, president of SAAFoST

“All the guessing is over! At last we have the regulations gazetted and can see in black and white what’’s in, what’’s out and what’’s changed and how significantly. Overall, it would seem that sanity, sense and science have prevailed but the greatest tragedy is that had the government consulted earlier, we could have had these regulations complete, in-place and in-force years ago and with less animosity. I only hope that the lesson has been learnt, especially as most of the health claims are excluded, pending further discussion and debate. So we are still years away from the final goal.”

Jane Badham, Managing Director; JB Consultancy; Health Communication & Strategy Consultants

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