This legislation is based on the general view that access to safe and affordable food is a basic human right. Food that carries potential risks can be harmful to one’s health, and consumers are entitled to expect and deserve protection against risks found in food. Accordingly, appropriate regulatory systems are important and have been put in place.
The latest requirements in respect of labelling and advertising of food products can be found in the latest regulations to the Foodstuffs Cosmetics and Disinfectant Act ("FDA") which addresses the manufacture, labelling, sale and importation of foodstuffs.
The effect of the regulations is that with effect from 2011, the principles of label, design and advertising have changed dramatically in the South African context. In terms of these principles the main aim is to create more effective communication channels from the manufacturer to the end consumer. This is applicable, among others, to the product characteristics, nutritional content when claims are made, the shelf-life of the product, the treatment the product has undergone and the allergens which the product might contain.
The regulations are aimed at ensuring that consumers have access to properly and accurately labelled foodstuffs, which will in turn assist them, among others, in making informed food choices. The regulations also provide clear guidance on the dos and don’ts of the information provided on the labels and in advertisements of foodstuffs.
Manufacturers of foodstuffs, both nationally and internationally in respect of imported foodstuffs, will be obliged to adapt their labelling accordingly.
The regulations will be implemented in two phases.
The first phase covers the following aspects:
- Date marking: To be mandatory for all packaging
- Batch number: All products shall bear a "batch number" which is compiled in such way that the product is easily identifiable and traceable.
- Pictorial representations: Pictorial representations may not be false, misleading, and deceptive or create an erroneous impression regarding the contents of the container, its character, origin, composition, quality, nutritive value, nature or other properties in any respect.
- List of ingredients: There must be a list of ingredients declared, which contain vital information regarding the contents of the foodstuff, eg colourants, preservatives, etc. Ingredients must be listed in order of descending mass (not volume). All allergens must be identified in the prescribed format.
- Nutritional information: The manufacturer must ensure the correctness of nutritional information to support the validity of nutrient content claims, eg “high fibre” or “trans-fat free”, etc.
- Quantitative ingredient declarations (QUID): When labelling places emphasis on one or more ingredients, the ingoing percentage in terms of mass of these ingredients should be declared in the manner prescribed.
- Nutrient analysis: This must be in table form per 100g of product as eaten (or if not, clearly stating per 100g of dry product) or per 100ml for liquids.
The second phase of the process relating to the regulation of the labelling of foodstuffs by the department depends on factors such as the development of a nutrient profiling model suitable and applicable to South African conditions.
In addition to the above, the FCD Act provides that any words, pictorial representations, marks, logos or descriptions which create an impression are seen as means of communication to the consumer and must be taken into consideration when prohibited statements are identified.
In addition, one cannot use endorsements:
- By a health practitioner (as individual or through an organisation).
- By organisations, associations, foundations and others (excluding religious certifying organisations and Fauna & Flora), unless approved by the director-general of health (scientific evidence and reports required).
- By an individual when the testimony implies a nutritional claim.
- By an endorsement of a manufacturer or seller (in form of a logo, mark, symbol, written or verbal statement).
- There may be no reference to “health” or “healthy” or any implication that foodstuff itself or the substance of the foodstuff has any “health giving” properties.