Meat scandal: SA’s food laws have teeth, but lack bite

2013-04-14 16:00

Regulations are not uniformly obeyed and are generally not well-enforced, says expert South African food-label law is tough, but lacks the teeth to bite.

Herman Blignaut, an attorney with copyright experts Spoor & Fisher, said manufacturers and retailers that mislabelled meat products fell foul of several laws, but enforcing and policing them was hampered by a lack of manpower and the high cost of scientific testing.

The problem was not limited to South Africa, as seen by the scandal of mislabelled meat that has raged on in Europe and the UK since January.

South Africa’s meat trade is governed by several strict laws that control the slaughter of meat, the sale of agricultural produce, and the labelling of food, cosmetics and disinfectants.

“In a situation where beef mince also contains other meat not declared on the label, it could boil down to one or more of these laws and regulations being broken,” said Blignaut.

“In general, such contraventions are considered an offence, to which fines or even possible prison sentences apply,” he said.

The laws that apply to meat labelling specifically are:

» Regulations relating to the labelling and advertising of foodstuff, which took effect last year and which forbid any false claims to be made on any food or medicine labelling;

» The Consumer Protection Act, which makes it illegal for consumers to be misled in any way;

» The Agricultural Product Standards Act, which makes strict provisions for the classification, treatment and sale of agricultural products, and;

» The Meat Safety Act, which governs hygiene and the treatment of animals at abattoirs.

Labelling enforcement falls under the department of health, the Consumer Protection Act falls under the department of trade and industry, and the agricultural product standards and meat safety fall under the department of agriculture.

“As can be seen from recent reports and research, these laws are not uniformly obeyed and are also not generally well-enforced.

“The respective departments probably don’t have the manpower to sustain a firm hold on compliance of the requirements, so the policing is not what it should be.

“Another factor that can make policing more difficult is the fact that slow, expensive and expert analysis is necessary to establish whether the meat claimed to be in the product actually is, and whether it could be contaminated by other meats.”

Blignaut said consumers may also approach the Advertising Standards Authority if they had proof that food had indeed been mislabelled.

Worst cases of mislabelling

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