New labelling regs: a wrap of R146 a year on
In March 2012, SA’s new R146 food labelling regulations came into force and although not without controversy, the changes were largely welcomed by consumers and retailers alike. More than a year later, however, non-compliance remains an issue. Many manufacturers and smaller retailers have still not fully invested in the changes that are necessary to meet new industry standards. With more regulations on the way, non-compliance is no longer an option.
Reasons for non-compliance
“Either smaller manufacturers are not aware of labelling legislation or they misinterpret certain aspects of it,” explains Karen Horsburgh, consultant dietician at Food and Allergy Consulting and Testing Services (FACTS). “They may also overlook certain aspects of legislation in order to be competitive,” she says.
In addition, the cost of compliance is high – laboratory testing is needed for nutritional analysis, as is the assistance of consultants and lawyers with legal interpretations. Updating and changing labels is expensive and some manufacturers seem to only be willing to change their labels when forced to do so.
“Regrettably, enforcement of R146 is very poor at best,” says Janusz Luterek, legal expert in the CPA and partner at Hahn & Hahn Attorneys. Regulations are compiled and published at national level, and enforced at municipal level by local environmental health officers.
“Unfortunately, they have a heavy workload, so mislabelling is often not top of mind,” says Horsburgh. “Training, human resources and skills are limited at municipal level and for this reason, enforcement is poor,” adds Moira Byers, director of Chill-e Food Consultants.
According to Horsburgh, it is expected that competitors will report each other and that this self-policing approach will play an important role in enforcing labelling legislation.
A matter of interpretation
However, this may prove difficult. “Food labelling in South Africa is complex due to food being controlled by a number of different government departments,” says Byers.
The Department of Health (DOH), for example, is responsible for labelling around additives and contaminants, while the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) is responsible for labelling around the Agricultural Product Standards Act, the Meat Safety Act and the Liquor Products Act, while the National Consumer Commission has an overarching responsibility for any misleading labelling and advertising.
Furthermore, SABS regulates quantity declarations for pre-packaged products subject to legal metrology under the Trade Metrology Act and the National Regulator for Compulsory Standards controls certain compulsory standards for tinned meat and fish products.
If a manufacturer is labelling prepackaged fruit juice, for example, containing ginseng and added vitamins, then the label must comply with the fruit juice regulations under the DAFF, various regulations under the DOH and SANS 289.
“It comes down to interpretation – different people interpret certain sections of the regulations in different ways,” says Horsburgh. Some of the requirements conflict and contradict each other, but in general, the DAFF overrides.
“The DAFF is very good about providing advice concerning implementation and interpretation of these regulations, but the other regulatory bodies are not accessible for this service,” says Byers.
Implications of non-compliance
Although food labelling legislation can be confusing and costly, non-compliance can have serious implications for retailers and manufacturers.
“If prosecuted, a guilty party can be fined R20 000 for a first offence, R40 000 for a second offence, and R80 000 for a third offence,” says Luterek. Imprisonment and forfeiture of products are also possible. “It’s enough to put a SME out of business,” adds
In addition to the cost of compliance, incorrectly labelled products may be stopped at Port Health resulting in the expiration of perishable products. Some of the larger retailers are also starting to refuse products that do not comply with the regulations.
Careful with consumers
Consumers are also wising up to their rights as outlined by the Consumer Protection Act (CPA). Following the meat scandal, reports citing mislabelled foodstuffs are becoming more and more common….
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