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Improper labelling of food products under the spotlight

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The National Consumer Commission (NCC) in commemoration of the annual World Consumer Rights Day has highlighted the issues around improper labelling of food products at an event that was hosted by the Limpopo Department of Economic Development. The theme of the 2016 World Consumer Rights Day is “make the right choice, read the label”.

NCC’s executive head, commissioner Ebrahim Mohamed, explained that the theme speaks to the consumer’s right to choose and the right to information.

“This is a continuation of making South African consumers aware of their rights, in particular, the labelling.”

Mohamed made reference to an investigation that was conducted by the University of Stellenbosch and the University of the Western Cape into meat in South Africa. The findings, he states, showed traces of other meat, including horse and donkey meat, and chicken mixed with meat.

He further asserts that as a result of the investigation a report was drafted, which contained certain recommendations that included the implementation of a national food agency.

A national food agency, Mohamed notes, is necessary since the issue of food consumption spans across numerous government departments; the Department of Health, the Department of Trade and Industry, and the Department of Agriculture.

A committee was subsequently established and is managed by the Portfolio Committee on Agriculture.

Mohamed explained that the process of labelling includes the prescription of a label by the Ministry of Trade and Industry that will regulate the trade description that is affixed to products.

“The trade description defines exactly what is contained in the product, inclusive of the; sell by date, use by date, and expiry date.”

The Consumer Protection Act requires that all information provided to consumers on products “must be plain and understandable – not confusing.”

All products are required to be enclosed in labels that indicate “exactly” what is contained in the package and, as stipulated in Section 24, protects consumers against misleading information.

Mohamed explained that the Commission has developed various awareness campaigns that are conducted within communities and “mall activation” programmes at large scale shopping malls, which is directed toward informing consumers by way of leaflets and by talking to consumers directly.

A specific section in the Act, Mohamed concluded, speaks to educating “poorer” consumers, which the Commission endeavours to do through the “train station activation” programme. This campaign, therefore, aims to protect “vulnerable” consumers.

VOc (Thakira Desai)


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