Meat la­bel rules ‘are long over­due’

Crack­down fol­lows con­tam­i­na­tion scan­dal

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - KOWTHAR SOLOMONS

IN­DUS­TRY ex­perts have wel­comed new gazetted meat la­belling reg­u­la­tions, re­leased by the Depart­ment of Trade and In­dus­try, say­ing the crack­down on im­moral and unscrupulous re­tail­ers and dis­trib­u­tors was long over­due.

On Fri­day last week, in the Gov­ern­ment Gazette, it be­came of­fi­cial that pro­cessed and pack­aged meat prod­ucts, along with dried and pack­aged meat, were now des­ig­nated as cat­e­gories of goods re­quir­ing spe­cific in­for­ma­tion to be dis­closed on any trade de­scrip­tion.

Un­der the cat­e­gori­sa­tion, to be im­ple­mented on April 25, the fol­low­ing de­tails about meat prod­ucts must be dis­closed: coun­try of ori­gin; quan­tity, mea­sure of food; name of pro­ducer; in­gre­di­ents or ma­te­ri­als mak­ing up the goods, in­clud­ing a plain-lan­guage de­scrip­tion of the an­i­mals from which any par­ti­cles, por­tions or con­stituents of meat come. The way in which the meat was pro­cessed must also be dis­closed.

The new reg­u­la­tions, fo­cused mainly on im­ported meat, are aimed at pre­vent­ing a re­peat of the meat scan­dal that rocked the coun­try in Fe­bru­ary.

Sev­eral stud­ies fol­lowed the news that traces of don­key, wa­ter buf­falo and goat were found in meat in sausages, burger pat­ties and other meat prod­ucts, but not re­flected on the pack­ag­ing.

A Stel­len­bosch Univer­sity study found nearly 60 per­cent of 139 prod­ucts tested con­tained in­gre­di­ents not listed on their la­bels, in­clud­ing don­key, wa­ter buf­falo, goat and pork.

Re­li­gious groups were out­raged by the scan­dal be­cause of vi­o­la­tions of their be­liefs. Mus­lims, for ex­am­ple, re­quire the an­i­mal to be killed ac­cord­ing to sharia ( Is­lamic law). The Al­lergy So­ci­ety of South Africa was also in­un­dated with calls from con­cerned cit­i­zens re­gard­ing the la­belling of foods.

Zodwa Ntuli, deputy di­rec­tor for cor­po­rate and con­sumer reg­u­la­tion at the DTI, said the an­nounce­ment of the cat­e­gori­sa­tion was based mostly

‘Mem­bers of the pub­lic may feel ag­grieved and may take le­gal ac­tion against those who know­ingly sold con­tam­i­nated meat’

on con­sumer feed­back rather than the re­sults of a joint re­port by the de­part­ments of trade and in­dus­try, health, agri­cul­ture and agri­cul­ture, forestry and fish­eries, which was com­mis­sioned af­ter the scan­dal broke.

“The an­nounce­ment of new reg­u­la­tions will en­sure that la­belling is cor­rect, and con­sumers are not mis­led. We are also giv­ing time for re­tail­ers and dis­trib­u­tors to com­ply with the new reg­u­la­tions once they come into ef­fect,” she said.

She could not say when that re­port would be re­leased to the pub­lic, but it con­tained sev­eral rec­om­men­da­tions which were ex­pected to be im­ple­mented.

Gareth Lloyd- Jones, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Ecow­ize, a health and san­i­ta­tion com­pany ser­vic­ing the food and bev­er­age sec­tor, said it was time that those re­spon­si­ble for de­ceiv­ing con­sumers be held ac­count­able.

“The main is­sue is that peo­ple want to know what they’re eat­ing, mainly for re­li­gious and cul­tural pur­poses. Be­cause of ‘soft’ reg­u­la­tions, they’re eas­ily de­ceived, but now we can hold them ac­count­able.”

He warned, how­ever, that a price in­crease may fol­low the new reg­u­la­tions, since un­listed prod­ucts could no longer be used to bulk up meat prod­ucts.

“In one way or another, the cost will be passed on to the con­sumer,” Lloyd-Jones said.

Ros Lake, Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion Act spe­cial­ist at the South African branch of Norton Rose Ful­bright, raised the mat­ter of po­ten­tial clas­s­ac­tion law­suits against re­tail­ers and dis­trib­u­tors who know­ingly sold “con­tam­i­nated” goods.

“Mem­bers of the pub­lic may feel ag­grieved and may take le­gal ac­tion. So far no com­plaints have been brought to the con­sumer tri­bunal, but that may all change once the joint re­port is re­leased,” she said.

The DTI said it was not in a po­si­tion to com­ment on the pos­si­bil­ity of class-ac­tion law­suits against dis­trib­u­tors and re­tail­ers who know­ingly sold prod­ucts con­tain­ing un­de­clared com­po­nents.

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