labelling: A brief overview for consumers
Africa there are many regulations which relate to the production,
marketing and labelling of food to protect the consumer.
But what does
it all really mean for consumers, how does it affect consumers and
why should consumers
be aware of the laws relating to food labelling?
It is because there is expectation and trust on the part of the
The consumer expects a supplier of foodstuffs to comply
with the relevant laws relating to their product and
trust that the
manner in which the foodstuff is handled, and
the information that
is presented to the consumer regarding a product, is true and not
declarations, the amount of sugar present in a product right down to
the storage instructions of a foodstuff,
consumers are fast becoming
more conscious of what is in their foodstuffs.
relevant laws with respect to the marketing and advertising of foods
to consumers is the Consumer Protection Act,
Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act, hereinafter referred to as the
the Agricultural Products Standards Act and the
National Health Act as well as the Regulations that fall under each
Below is a
brief overview of the relevant laws a consumer should note and be
aware of as well as
where a consumer can go should they wish to
issue a complaint:
Protection Act (CPA):
applies to any transaction in which goods or services are supplied
to a consumer.
“Goods” include “everything marketed for human
In terms of
the CPA, a consumer has the right to information in plain and
the right to safe, quality goods and the
right to fair and responsible marketing.
The CPA falls
under the Department of Trade and Industry and in order to assist
consumers with complaints against suppliers,
the National Consumer
Commission and the Consumer Goods and Services Ombud have been
established to assist consumers
with valid complaints in respect of
goods that might be unsafe or information regarding the product that
Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act and the Regulations
relating to the Act:
There are many
mandatory requirements a supplier must comply with when displaying
information on a label.
What is worthy for a consumer to note is the
indicated on the label and in the following manner: “best before”,
“BB” and/or “use by” and/or “sell by”. Any person is prohibited
from removing or altering the date marking.
However, it is important
to note that when the “best before” dates have been reached,
not mean that the food is unsafe, but that it may be past its best.
“Use by” is somewhat more instructive and often applies to
refrigerated items where the risk of microbiological spoilage
expected to increase after a given date.
“Sell by” is a store
guideline to ensure that goods still have a reasonable shelf life
If there are
claims made on a label, such as “High in fibre” it is mandatory to
have a nutritional table on the label.
If the nutritional table has
been indicated on the label, whether voluntarily by the manufacturer
due to the fact that a claim has been made on the label, the
Regulations relating to the Foodstuffs Act (R146)
prescribes a very
specific format in which the nutritional information must be
Amongst other requirements, the nutritional information
must be presented in the tabular format,
energy content must be
declared in “kilojoules” or “kJ”, and
the amount of each nutrient
present in the foodstuff must be expressed per 100 g/ml and per
foodstuffs, however, are exempt from the requirements regarding
labelling, unless of course a claim has been made.
Foods such as
eggs, fresh unprocessed vegetables, fresh unprocessed fruit,
ready-to-eat foodstuff prepared and sold on the
premises, unpacked or transparently-packed servings of foodstuffs
sold as snacks on the premises of preparation,
intended to be consumed within 24 hours and ice do not require a
important for a consumer to note that certain statements and claims
are prohibited or only allowed
if certain requirements have been
Words such as “fresh”, “natural”, “pure”, “premium”,
“quality” etc., shall only be permitted if the product complies
criteria stipulated in the Guidelines to regulation R146 (Labelling
and Advertising of Foodstuffs).
Further nutrient content claims, for
example claims such as “low in sodium” are also regulated and
therefore as it is so strictly controlled by the Regulations,
important to understand when such descriptors and claims can be
Act falls under the Department of Health. Should a consumer feel
that a product is unsafe or misleading,
they can file a complaint
with a municipal environmental health practitioner who will
investigate the matter further.
allergens must be declared on a label and the manner in which
allergens must be declared is regulated by R146.
Agricultural Product Standards Act (APS Act) and the Regulations
that fall under the APS Act:
The purpose of
the APS Act is to provide control over the sale and export of
certain agricultural products,
control over the sale of certain
imported agricultural products; and control over other related
Products such as fruit, vegetables, grains, poultry, meat
and dairy to name a few, are all regulated under the APS Act.
The APS Act
falls under the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
and the purpose of the
Department is to regulate the quality and
food safety of certain agricultural products.
legislation in South Africa is complex and must be looked at as a
whole and not each part in isolation.
In addition to the multitude
of legislations pertaining to food labelling,
there is also no single
regulatory authority on labelling of foodstuffs. Bearing all this in
although it can be a bit overwhelming, consumers must be
aware of their rights and where to go should they have a complaint.
retailers must also take note of the many food labelling legislations
which will impact their marketing,
designing of labels and
ultimately their relationship with the consumer.
With new labelling
Regulations in the pipeline gearing to replace R146, understanding
the complex nature of our
South African labelling legislation has
never been more important.