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New food label laws 'will make SA healthier'

New food label laws 'will make SA healthier'
-- Lyse Comins

Consumer groups and dieticians have hailed proposed amendments to food labelling legislation as progressive, saying the changes would encourage a "healthier" nation.

However, they remain concerned about how the law will be policed, and say that loopholes may allow the makers of food supplements to continue making "outrageous" claims.

The 80-page draft regulations under the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act 54 of 1972 were released last week by the department of health for public comment.

The due date for submissions is October 20

Under the proposed regulations, foods classified as "not considered essential for a healthy diet" - such as sweets, chocolates and sweetened food or drinks, and sports drinks - may not make any health or nutritional claims on their packaging or advertising.

The regulations ban adverts, toys and cartoons that encourage children to eat junk food and unhealthy snacks. Cartoon characters, child actors and toys or gifts may not be used to market these foods to children.

Jane Badham, a spokesperson for the Association of Dietetics of South Africa, said dieticians welcomed the long-awaited draft regulations that would deal with many issues to ensure consumers were informed about the composition of foods.

"This is a contribution towards addressing the health concerns of not only obesity, but also heart diseases and diabetes, which are increasing among all South Africans.

"We are, however, concerned that the regulations will tightly regulate some categories of foods and control unsubstantiated health claims, which is good news, yet does not make the labelling of all pre-packaged foods with basic nutrition information - such as energy, carbohydrates, protein, fat and sodium - mandatory. This is a major gap," she said.

'This is a major gap'
It would be impossible, for example, for dieters to differentiate between the nutritional content of products as there would be a ban on displaying the products' nutrient contents.

"These draft regulations will bring more control regarding foods, but we remain concerned that there remains a complete lack of regulations when it comes to the plethora of supplements making outrageous claims," Badham said.

Thami Bolani, the chairperson of the National Consumer Forum, said the regulations were progressive but the law needed policing, and consumers had to be educated for them to be effective.

"We support this 100 percent. However, the challenge for poor people is a language issue, so how do you convey this message to them so they can make the right decisions?

"A second challenge is that our system is quite lax when it comes to putting sanctions on people who don't comply, so we need to know what we are going to do with them. Self-regulation can be problematic because many people can get away with non-compliance."

Bolani said that advertising by the liquor industry in poor communities that were rife with domestic violence also needed to be regulated.

Nick Tselentis, the Legal and Regulatory Manager for the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa, said the industry had not examined the regulations holistically, but was meeting to discuss them.

Unilever spokesperson Christine Broadhurst said: "We are studying the regulations and will forward our comments to the Department of Health as there are several changes in this draft compared to the first draft, and compared to the existing legislation."

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