SOUTH AFRICA – South Africans are being urged to provide feedback on the draft Regulations Relating to the Labeling and Advertising of Foodstuffs, which was recently made available for public comment after being gazetted by the Department of Health (DoH) in January 2023. 

Consumers may find it difficult to read and understand the current information on food containers, which can be deceptive. Therefore, the regulations seek to significantly alter how food products are labeled on store shelves in South Africa.

They call for the use of prominent warning labels on prepackaged foods that are rich in salt, sugar, saturated fat, and artificial sweetener.

The proposed regulations are consistent with World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations for a healthy diet, which include restricting the intake of added sugars and salt as well as saturated fat.

Overindulging in saturated fats, salt, and sugar can contribute to being overweight or obese and a variety of diet-related noncommunicable diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancer.

Nzama Mbalati, Programmes Manager at Heala, says the organization is committed to mobilizing communities to ensure policymakers take their concerns about unhealthy food consumption, and the need for warning labels to help them make more informed food decisions, seriously.

“We believe that food regulation is at the centre of encouraging and empowering consumers to make healthier food choices in line with the WHO’s recommendation for better regulation of the food environment. 

“Front-of-package warning labels, in the shape of a black triangle, allow consumers to see the ingredients of a product at a glance, helping to increase their knowledge and change attitudes towards nutrition and health, and can help to reduce levels of diet-related disease,” he said.

The proposed changes reinforce many of the regulations that are already in place in South Africa for product packagings, such as ingredient lists and sell-by dates, but they also bring in a number of updates for more contemporary changes in food advertising.

This includes dropping fashionable labels for foods like “smart food” or “intelligent food,” among others.

The regulations recommend banning the use of phrases like “wholesome,” “nutritious,” “nutraceutical,” or “superfood” and similar terms on labels as part of a reorganization of nomenclature modifications.

The new regulations also forbid the use of any additional phrases, emblems, or visuals that have a similar connotation and suggest that the meal is superior in any way, including the brand and trade name.

Other claims on the package that can be deceptive are another area where the government intends to crack down.

Foods or drinks with brand names that contain a health claim may continue to use the brand name for six months after the promulgation of these regulations, only if the brand name was registered before 1 May 1995 (if after, they cannot).

Comments from consumers must be submitted by July 21.

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