Matlou Setati on the Role of Consumer Goods Council of South Africa (CGCSA) in boosting food safety in South Africa.

Given the complexity of the food sector, ensuring safe food requires concerted efforts between key stakeholders, including Public-Private Partnership (PPP) platforms. Partnerships can accelerate the food safety process and serve as a win-win situation for the industry, competent authorities and consumers.

To this end, Food Safety Africa Magazine had a discussion with Matlou Setati, the Executive, Food Safety at the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa, on the role CGCSA plays in boosting food safety in South Africa at the Africa Food Safety & Quality Summit 2021.

What is the role of the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa (CGCSA) and what are some of the activities it is involved in?

SETATI: CGCSA is aligned to the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), which brings together key stakeholders in the consumer goods industry, at the global level. In South Africa, most of the multi-nationals that are sitting as members of the association are also members of the CGF.

The Consumer Goods Council of South Africa is one of the many industry associations in South Africa, but what differentiates us from the rest of is that the other associations are sector focused. We look at the entire food value chain – currently we have retail industry members, manufacturing members plus certification bodies that mainly deal with laboratory testing, chemicals and risks analysis and all issues related to food safety. We almost welcome everyone because we realized that you can’t be a know-it-all; you need to utilize the strengths of the value chain to ensure that whatever is missing, there will be someone to answer to that.

Our key mandate is we advocate for the sector, we represent them, we lobby on their behalf as regards to whatever issues impact them – our tagline goes by “helping members trade better.” Food safety is one of the divisions at CGCSA – which looks at issues pertaining to food safety, quality, nutrition and of late, food loss and waste.

Why has CGCSA placed a major focus on food safety?   

 SETATI: Generally, food safety is taken as less of a critical thing, but as people in this field, we know that food safety is a pivotal thing.

If anything goes wrong in terms of food safety, a lot of issues get affected. We are guided by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals – we know that food safety is not specifically spoken to in those goals even though it has bits and pieces here and there, but if you look at food security, food safety is the pillar, if you look at food nutrition, food safety is the pillar. For supply chains to function we need to maintain food safety.

As an association, we do not shy away from talking about issues such as the Listeriosis outbreak in South Africa – that brings the aspect of saying, as the WHO and FAO would say, ‘food safety is everyone’s responsibility.’ In the work we do – whether engaging with government or research bodies – the critical thing that needs to happen is that at some point, we need the leadership and I think government and the private sector in their individual spaces have perfected the processes and put the systems in place.

However, as leadership, we need to find a place where we can get to recognize that food safety, for as long as it is not given the recognition and the policy support – if there is no policy direction and focus at a very high level – it will fail. It is quite critical to have food safety at a very high level, for everyone to take it seriously.

That inspiration goes down to the consumers to say, “I also have a responsibility to maintain food safety in my household.” We haven’t gotten that level of detail to most of our consumers.            

You have talked about listeriosis, tell us about this outbreak. How did it change the industry in South Africa?

 SETATI: Well, it was quite a difficult time because in terms of the spread it was quite big but if we look at the level of detail as to how many companies were affected, we only have that segregated one point that we looked at.

However, in South Africa its evident we pride ourselves with the regulatory framework that we currently have. We’ve got an abundance to choose from; both the South Africa Bureau of Standards and the technical regulators have standards on food safety.

There is vast research in terms of what we need to do, we know what we need to do, and this then goes back to the issue of a food safety culture in each facility, and that leadership role to say it needs to start from the head. We need to lead by example so that it filters down to each level – everyone needs to ensure that they understand why they need to do this.

I find it quite amazing sometimes when someone steps out of a factory because the quality manager is no longer there, they seem to forget that even in their own household, food safety continues. I think it’s the holistic education that we need to look at to make sure that people understand, and this is the start of it, where people can get an opportunity to talk and hear about these things so that it is in our lifestyles.

Nonetheless, in all of that, as South Africa we have learned a lot with everything that happened during the Listeriosis outbreak, and we can’t say the system is perfect – no system is perfect. We keep advancing in terms of working with the government and other stakeholders in order to put everything in place. However, before we can talk about the regulatory framework, it’s upon us, the people in the field, to always do the right things. We can have the best regulatory systems, frameworks and understanding, but if we don’t do what is right, then we will end up in that situation again.

There’s always been calls in South Africa to have one food safety agency that will focus solely on the food safety aspects and that this could possibly bring about effective and efficient enforcement. It’s a whole lot of things we have learnt, and we are taking the outbreak as a learning option because from the onset in South Africa, the food sector is highly regulated.

Therefore, we wouldn’t say the needle has moved, we have maybe improved in our systems over and above what we have learned from the one company that had the mishap about food safety. But I think we’ve got the right things in place; we just need to adopt the right food safety culture and make sure that everything is done in the correct manner.   

Is there any need to change the regulatory environment in South Africa?

 SETATI: My colleagues around in the world would understand that there isn’t a single system that could work.

You need to then analyze, do an assessment in your own country in accordance with the guidance that we get from the WHO and so forth, to determine in terms of the way you work, because currently we do have a fragmented system. We’ve got various organizations or government departments that deal with food safety, but the recommendations are there, our government knows about it. If they opt to go towards merging of regulatory agencies to have a single food safety agency, they will have to do their risk-based assessment for the best option to be taken.

Regarding the meat sector, where we had the Listeriosis outbreak, each company in the sector in South Africa must have a HACCP system in place now, which was not there previously. Other sectors like peanut and peanut products processors have also been mandated to have such in place. So, they have moved a step up from the minimum requirements of food safety and hygiene and to them having a HACCP compliance now.

“Our key mandate is we advocate for the sector, we represent them, we lobby on their behalf as regards to whatever issues impact them – our tagline goes by “helping members trade better.”

Matlou Setati – Executive, Food Safety, CGCSA


Are there some specific things that you do in terms of pan-African trade issues with your membership?  


SETATI: Indeed, that’s a critical one because there are opportunities, not only for South Africa but for Africa as a whole.

CGCSA sits at the body that brings together the community, labor, business and government in one place in order to make sure that all the processes get streamlined. We know what the other countries are offering in terms of the tariff reductions and all the regulatory frameworks that might have been in place, but I think what is critical in terms of the Africa Free Trade and Continental Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) is that for as long as there are silos in the language that we use in communicating with each other as Africa, we are not going to move a needle.

We will have the tariff side being sorted but still when it comes to the technical barriers, we still might have huge challenges and hoops to jump. Let’s look for instance at the quality side where there’s issues pertaining to certificate of sale, the GMO requirements that we have in Africa. We haven’t even spoken about food safety, even though we know globally in terms of the technical aspects we all align to the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) in the benchmarks and food safety management systems that get implemented.

So, we need to get to that level of saying, as Africa what is our harmonization strategy in all the technical regulations that we will be trading with each other? We can name the rules of origin and how we trade in terms of the business that are in South Africa and elsewhere in Africa. So, all those nitty-gritty details that we tend to forget about in our engagements on AfCFTA, I find them as a huge challenge if we don’t pin them down.

If you look at the organizations like ARSO, where we all gather in terms of aligning with technical regulations, if those processes are not solidified and we’re talking from the same voice then we might face challenges. We have a lot of challenges with the certificate of free sale in South Africa where it is required but there is no legal entity that can provide that assurance, because there needs to be equivalence in terms of your technical regulations but all those small details in terms of our trading could hamper the level of implementation of the African trade. In terms of trade relations, we work closely with the Department of Trade and Industry.   


We have talked about all this surge in exports and regional trade, now let’s talk about collaborations with the rest of the continent. What are the opportunities around collaborating with the other associations like yourselves in Africa?


SETATI: CGCSA holds the license for GS1, the global standards in terms of the supply chain efficiencies, the barcode issuances. We operate in terms of the member organizations that currently exist globally, so, in that space in terms of GS1 principles and processes, that setup is already in place in terms of the member organizations that we work with.

From a lobbying and advocacy side, as CGCSA we already have industry associations as members. We just need to have a coordinating role of getting the industry associations at an African level to unite and form a structure.

We have done a few projects with the NEPAD Business Foundation, We have gotten great value in collaborating at that level because with the issues pertaining to GMO, the certificate of origin, and certificate of free sale, we can then post them at a SADC level through those processes with the NEPAD Business Foundation and the SADC Business Council to say, “Let’s present this at the broader government structures”, because these are issues that pertain to the business sector.

When engaging with the members, we have got companies that are operating all over Africa and they appreciate the relevance of the work that CGCSA is doing and other industries associations, but they are pushing us in that direction to say, “You need to make this happen.”

We haven’t really unlocked that, and this is just my call – we are available in all ways for strategic collaborations across Africa because as I said when I started, it is us who need to do it and make it happen. We are always open to engage with the various industry sector associations and across Africa because we share common challenges and take the message to our various governments, we will find all those alignments and harmonization in all matters that we deem important for the sector.      


How is the retail system in South Africa structured and what is the opportunity for the rest of the continent to streamline compliance in these other emerging sectors, retail including cafes?        


SETATI: Let me utilize the emphasis from the sustainable development goals which says, “In everything that we do for us to remain sustainable we need not leave no one behind”.

I think research is out there, we know that the economy is not going to solely depend on the big businesses, and this is the critical area that we have embarked on as CGCSA. We need to groom small and informal businesses to make sure that they are aware of the minimum that they need to do in respect to compliance.

We have got programs in place that are geared to ensure that such businesses exist and flourish because they are feeding into the system. I can tell you that when Covid started and the supply chain was disrupted and the informal sector was closed because they were not regarded as essential at some point, which was a gap in my view, that affected the bulk of the flow of products into various other places, because when we look at retail, retail will not exist everywhere.

I come from a rural place, which does not have a formal retail and I have embarked on a study to determine whether these informal shops are adding value, and if they need the education to ensure that they’ve got diverse products in their own establishments, because not everywhere will be feasible financially to have a formal retailer.

So, we need not disregard those mamas that are selling on the side of the street. They are helping in moving the supply from the bigger side of the sector. The level of detail might not be suitable so everything that we put in place needs to be dedicated to a specific audience because I don’t see the informal or small businesses ever disappearing. There needs to be a balance in terms of how we operate so that the system is not unsustainable. So, in my view, it is the support that we give to those structures from the government and the private sector, as they are pivotal as revealed by the Covid pandemic.

This feature appeared in the September/October 2021 issue of Food Safety Africa. You can read the magazine HERE