Meat label rules ‘are long overdue’
Crackdown follows contamination scandal
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.