I truly believe that it is of the utmost importance as consumers and moms, to be well-informed and educated in food labelling and the South African regulations, as this will permit and enable you to make more informed decisions when selecting food products. With the ever increasing infiltration of new ingredients and additives to our food products, and the on-going development of new products, knowing how to ‘read’ the food product label is vital.
Summary of food labelling legislation in layman’s terms
On the 1st of March 2010, an entire 17 years later, the Department of Health published “New Regulations Relating to the Labelling and Advertising of Foodstuffs” as part of the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectant Act. The updated Food Labelling Regulations serves to make life easier for consumers by providing them with additional and relevant information on the labels of the foods they purchase, and to regulate what claims are made in food advertisements. The Food Labelling Regulations also allows you as a consumer to be more aware of the labelling specifications that refer to nutritional value claims, which have often confused the public.
Food Labelling Regulations also regulates nutritional claims made on products and advertising, no manufacturer may make a nutrition claim about his food product unless that food has been analysed in an accredited laboratory and the content of the specific nutrient or nutrients is greater than a specified amount per serving. This serves as a great reassurance to me as a consumer, and from being in the industry myself as a product developer, I can account for the implementation of this regulation. The selection of low energy and low fat food products is made much easier, as the new regulations lay down precise guidelines for determining which descriptive term may be used in each nutrient category.
Food labelling requirements and prohibited statements/negative claims
The regulations have also allowed for the nullification of false advertising by manufacturers, as there are strict wording laws specified with the permitting of the announcement that a food contains a lot or very little of a nutrient, such as:
- The banishment of the terms that include: “rich in, excellent source, good source, enriched X, with added Y, or contains Z”
- The permitted use of terms: “Low, free or virtually free, source, high or very high”
In addition to restricting the descriptive terms that may be used to describe the nutritive properties of foods, the new regulations also lay down precise guidelines for determining which descriptive term may be used in each nutrient category.
For example, a food can only be labelled as “Low” in energy if it contains no more than 170 kJ per 100g (solids) or 80 kJ per 100 ml (liquids). Conversely a food can only be labelled as “High in energy” if it provides 950 kJ per 100g (solids) or 250 kJ per 100 ml (liquids).
This means that the Food Labelling Regulations is actually providing consumers with specifications for products that have claims on and enables consumers to be at peace with the claim made on the product as legitimate. In other words, food products which are selling themselves as low-energy or energy-reduced foods are in actual fact just that!
The specifications for fat also give clear-cut guidance to the public:
- Foods can only be labelled as “Low fat” if they contain no more than 3 g of total fat per 100g (solids) or 1.5g of total fat per 100 ml (liquids)
- For saturated fat, the food may only be labelled as “Low in saturated fat” if it contains not more than 1.5 g per 100 g (solids) or 0.75 g per 100 ml (liquids) and not more than 10% of the energy content.
There are a list of prohibited statements specified in the new regulations, and include:
- The prohibition of food being labelled or advertised to create the impression that it is supported or endorsed by a health practitioner (e.g. medical doctor, dietician, etc.) or be associated with an individual where such a testimonial implies a nutrition claim (Mrs X has lost 20 kg by using product Y)
- The use of the terms “health” or “healthy”, or “wholesome or nutritious”
- The implication that a given food provides complete or balanced nutrition
- That the food can “cure” any medical condition