SOUTH AFRICA – South Africa’s Department of Health has published a massive 238-page document referred to as the Regulations Relating to the Labelling and Advertising of Foodstuffs that seeks to make significant changes to the way food items are labeled on store shelves in South Africa.

The proposed changes reinforce many of the regulations that are already in place in South Africa for product packaging, 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 “super food” 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.

The terms “grain-fed,” “grass-fed,” “Karoo lamb,” “natural lamb,” “country reared,” “free range,” “pure,” etc. may still be used on products, but they must be connected to a specific protocol that has been approved or registered with the Department of Agriculture or is subject to the Agricultural Product Standards Act.

Foods that are not subject to the Agricultural Product Standards Act may still use claims that they are “fresh,” “natural,” “nature’s,” “pure,” “traditional,” “original,” “authentic,” “real,” “genuine,” “home-made,” “farmhouse,” “hand-made,” “selected,” “premium,” “finest,” “quality,” or “best,” but these claims must be supported by the ingredients.

Other labels that are prohibited are those that come from organizations, celebrities, or any kind of medical professional. Claims that a product offers a nutritionally balanced diet are likewise off-limits.

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).

The rules are also extremely futuristic, preparing for a new generation of products that may replace beef in the future.

As a result, the regulations state that the word “meat” may not be used in the name or description of any product if the percentage of meat present is less than 25%.

For pre-packaged foods that are heavy in sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats, which are known to raise the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and several malignancies, the draft regulations mandate a mandatory black-and-white warning-label system.

Additionally, the necessary warning labels will apply to foods and beverages that include artificial (non-nutritive) sweeteners, which have recently been found to be detrimental to gut flora and, over time, to raise the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular illnesses.

Due to South Africa’s rising rates of obesity and non-communicable diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease, which are frequently brought on by being overweight or obese, nutritionists and epidemiologists have been eagerly awaiting the new regulations.

According to Maverick Citizen, nearly 80% of pre-packaged foods on South African supermarket shelves are highly processed or ultra-processed, containing excessive amounts of added sugars, salt, unhealthy fats, and chemical additives that make them irresistibly tasty. 

“Because these foods make up large proportions of many South Africans’ diets, they are also “fuelling new levels of death and disease with almost no regulation to stand in their way,” Maverick wrote.

When the draft is adopted, pre-packaged foods that contain more than 10g of total sugar per 100g or more than 5g per 100ml, more than 4g of saturated fats per 100g or more than 3g per 100ml, or more than 400mg of sodium per 100g or more than 100mg per 100ml must display a front-of-pack warning label.

Front-of-pack labeling

A warning label is necessary for any level of artificial sweetener in foods and beverages.

For instance, sweetened carbonated beverages that contain both sugar and artificial sweeteners will need to have warning warnings for each of those components.

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


The front-of-pack-labeling (FOPL) must be prominently displayed and, insofar as possible, integrated into the package. The FOPL cannot be fully or partially covered by any other element, according to the department.

Such logos must be visible on the front of the packaging of the relevant foodstuffs, and they must take up to 25% of the front surface.

Since 2004, the World Health Organization (WHO) has urged nations to adopt front-of-pack labeling laws as a means of enhancing consumers’ ability to make healthy food choices.

Ingredients must be listed on labels “in descending order of mass present in the end product”, i.e. ingredients must be listed from highest to lowest relative weights. In the case of “mechanically recovered”, separated or deboned meat (typically used in processed meats), if the percentage of meat included in a product is less than 25%, the name and description of the end product may not contain the word “meat”.

All food labels must include a table containing nutritional information or facts, with the exception of those made “by a small producer or street vendor” (small is not defined), or if the product is one of a select group that includes things like baking powder, beer, coffee, honey, teas and infusions without additional ingredients, vinegar, and “spray and cook type products.”

A single serving’s weight or volume, the number of single servings per container, and a description of a single serving “in household terminology or measurements” must all be included in nutritional information presented under the heading “(TYPICAL) NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION/FACTS” (the word “typical” is optional).

Nutritional data must be provided for each individual serving as well as per 100g or 100 ml of the product.

Healthy Living Alliance backs new regulations

The department’s decision to publish the draft regulation, which comes two months after a protest march in Johannesburg that HEALA organized in November 2022 to demand that the government mandate warning labels for unhealthy foods, has been commended by the Healthy Living Alliance (HEALA), a coalition of civil society organizations in South Africa.

“This step taken by the government is long overdue given the thousands of South African citizens who have succumbed to the effects of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, and heart disease, due in part to a poorly regulated food environment.

“Following global trends, South Africans are consuming increasing amounts of ultra-processed foods, leading to adverse health complications and poor health outcomes for a lot of South Africans, including children,” HEALA said.

HEALA has been pushing for the government to implement front-of-pack warning labels “to help people make better choices and live healthier lives” along with a broad range of academics, dietitians, and public-health specialists.

Several nations, including Singapore (1998), Thailand (2007), Chile (authorized in 2012, implemented in 2016), Ecuador (2013), Indonesia (2014), Mexico (2016), and, most recently, Colombia, have mandated warning labels, “traffic-light” labeling, or “healthy choice” labeling systems (2022).

Legislation permitting member states (and a select few others, such as Norway and Switzerland) to create voluntary front-of-pack recommendations showing “guideline daily quantities” or traffic-light forms of portraying nutrients in foods was approved by the European Union in 2011.

According to HEALA, even though they may not be aware of it, consumers worldwide including in South Africa have difficulty understanding traditional nutrition labels (such as the “nutrition information panel” listing the energy, protein, carbohydrate, fat, and fiber composition of foods).

Recent focus-group studies (in 2020 and 2022) have shown that warning labels, particularly those in black and white like those incorporated in the new regulation, are easily understood by South Africans and are highly effective in influencing their food purchasing intentions away from unhealthy foods and beverages.

The department has opened the floor for public feedback till 30 April 2023.

For all the latest food safety news from Africa and the World, subscribe to our NEWSLETTER, follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel.