Retailers back to bad old ways

2011-10-22 00:00

WHEN Ballito resident Kenn Reeves kicked up a fuss about apparently misleading food labels last year, national retailers were red-faced and quickly pulled their products off the shelves. But now, he says, the deception persists.

Meeting Weekend Witness at a coffee shop, he asked for fresh milk with his coffee.

The waitress returned and he lifted the small jug of milk and asked, “Is this fresh?”

Yes, was the obvious answer, and he responded, “Okay then.”

Turning to us, he said, “How could it possibly be fresh if it’s in a box? The term ‘fresh’ is a misnomer, but that could be considered petty — what I’m about to discuss with you is far more sinister.”

Reeves, a cancer patient in remission, said he has filed a R400 million lawsuit against the departments of Agriculture and Health for gross misrepresentation. And he is prepared to “fight till death” for what he believes is a necessary and worthy cause: to reinforce the Agricultural Products Standards Act of 1990, which states that all food products should be labelled honestly and accurately.

In January 2010 Reeves took the South African Food Control Authority to task about apparent misleading dairy food labels used by retailers and restaurateurs.

Major retailers subsequently bowed to Reeves’s pressure and labelled items properly.

Now when he walks into a supermarket, it’s all eyes on him, and he often claims he is harassed by security staff when he scrutinises food on the shelves.

“People are being lied to, and they need to know what they are consuming.” he said, “I ask for cream, but they give me hydrogenated vegetable fat, an industrial chemical that could run a truck. If it’s not cream then don’t say that it is.”

Reeves was concerned about confectionary products on the shelves of major retail stores.

“This is bigger than the arms deal or any racket ever exposed, and the major beneficiaries are less than likely, it’s the government.”

He said he was instrumental in shutting down a cheese factory in Shaka’s Kraal on the North Coast manufacturing artificial cheese, and passing it off as the real thing.

Reeves worked as a technical engineer under the Clinic Holdings Limited umbrella, which became Netcare, before taking on his own projects.

“I have now undertaken a lifelong commitment to bringing the powers that be to their knees,” he said.

Shoprite group director Brian Weyers last year admitted they the supermarket chain was wrong and that some of the foods were labelled incorrectly.

“Doughnuts are now referred to as imitation cream doughnuts, and creme slices will be referred to generally as pastries,” he reportedly said at the time.

Walking into a Pick n Pay store we noticed a sign that indicated imitation cream above confectionaries. Store owner Michael Lafferty confirmed that Reeves was instrumental in the change.

Lafferty said he is not a spokesperson for the retailer, but confirmed his store enforces informing customers and post signs about its imitation cream.

• rowan.sewchurran@witness.co.za

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