Thursday, February 21, 2008

Labelling - 'preventing deception and fraud' continue...

Labelling and current legislation

At present under South African food law, certain terms are already 4prohibited. For example, no foodstuff may be labelled with the words 'recommended by doctors' or 'medically recommended' or imply the same; nor may the words 'health', 'healthy', 'heal', 'cure' or 'restorative' be used, implying that the food has health-giving properties.

The law also requires food producers to list ingredients in order of the quantities in which they are present in a product. Hence, a product labelled as containing 'meat and soya' in that order would have more meat than soya. Nutritional content is not required by law, but if a producer wishes to state this on a package, it must be headed 'Nutritional Information'. The producer must indicate what percentage of the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) of the specific nutrient is present per serving and the order in which the nutrients are listed is stipulated. There must also be an indication of the energy content of the food to the nearest kilojoule per serving. Even the word 'serving' is prescribed by the legislation and 'means the mass, volume or number, as the case may be, which is recommended by the manufacturer as the amount to be taken on its own or as part of a meal ...'.

Diet Start

Perhaps this is where some consumers may have a difference of opinion with the manufacturers: the consumer sees the purchase as a meal, whereas the manufacturer regards it 'as part of a meal'. Either that or there are a lot of not-so-hungry manufacturers out there!

By law, the weight or volume of all packaged foods has to be stated on the package and this must refer to the actual usable quantity of food; for example, a 250 g pack of teabags must literally contain 250 g of tealeaves when weighed without the individual bags or box in which they are packaged. Another example of this type of legislation is applicable to eggs, which are graded and labelled according to strictly controlled weight regulations.

'Negative' claims

It is generally accepted that a manufacturer may extol the virtues of his product or the method of its manufacture, provided that the information given can be justified. However, any claim that denounces food ingredients, whether outright or by innuendo, deserves intense scrutiny. Over the last few years, some irresponsible promotional campaigns have stated or implied that foods containing certain permitted additives are less wholesome, less safe or less healthy than those without these additives. Conversely, it has been stated or implied that foods without certain permitted additives are more wholesome and safer, or healthier, than those with additives.

Admittedly, it is sometimes important to draw the consumers' attention to the fact that a foodstuff does not contain a substance, particularly if this fact could change the consumer's attitude to the product. For example, canned foods generally do not contain preservatives; evaporated milk does not contain added sugar (sucrose), yet in both cases, many people believe that they do. Because of the trend towards 'naturalness', more and more consumers are opting for additive-free foods and so of course manufacturers want to let the buying public know if their products conform to this 'ideal' - that's simply good marketing and the words 'contains no preservatives or additives' on a label don't necessarily imply that a product is any better than one with additives.

Then there are those ambiguous expressions, 'sugar free' and `no sugar added'. What most people don't realise is that the 'sugar' referred to here is sucrose (cane sugar) and that these products may well contain other types of 'natural' sugar - for example the milk sugar, lactose, present in an ingredient such as skim milk powder. These and similar expressions should only be used if the information is followed closely by an equally clear statement indicating which sugars are present or have been added to the food.

... andjoyohoxing