Product labels misleading?

2015-06-24 15:39
Lyse Comins

Lyse Comins (File)

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SAVVY consumers who tend to wonder whether label claims such as “organic”, “GMO free” “fat free” and “no sugar added” are, in fact, true are harnessing the power of social media and testing products to hold food companies accountable for the claims that they make.

A consumer-led product testing group, aptly called Testing of Products Initiated by Consumers (Topic) recently tested the “no sugar claims” of two slabs of Le Chocolatier Organic Chocolate, 70% that is made in Stellenbosch and sold in retail stores and health shops nationally.

Topic spokesperson Peter Becker said the organisation had tested the chocolate at an SA National Accreditation System certified laboratory, using funds raised from concerned consumers and retailers after consumers had independently nominated it for testing via Twitter, Facebook and anonymous e-mail. The tests measured the sugar content of two slabs — one with an old label stating “no sugar” and another with a new label stating “we do not add sugar”.

But it turned out that the tests contradicted both of these claims. “The results came back showing 27,2 grams sucrose per 100 grams in both slabs,” Becker said.

“Consumers should be warned that this product contains more than a quarter sucrose [table sugar], despite being labelled ‘no sugar’ and ‘no sugar added’.

“An inaccurate label like this poses a real danger for diabetics and others who avoid sugar in their diet,” Becker said.

He said when the organisation had contacted Le Chocolatier owner Daniel Waldis to ask for evidence backing up the claims, he had advised that he had tested the chocolate, which showed just 7,24 g of sugar per 100 g. He put this down to “added dehydrated honey powder”, not sugar. He promised to change the labels.

When I asked Waldis to comment on the findings and his label claims yesterday he apologised to consumers and put the contradiction down to “an honest mistake”. He said he had understood that dehydrated honey powder was alternatively classified as a “permissible sweetener” and not on the list of ingredients classified as “added sugar” in the R146 food labelling regulations in the Foodstuffs Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act.

He said he had changed the labels, which now listed sugar as an ingredient because “it is confusing and probably misleading for consumers”.

Waldis added that he had sent chocolates for testing and laboratories had given him results for sugar content that differed by as much as 350%.

“You have to state what is in the products but who is controlling what is in the products? They need to make the labs have equal standards to test with same method and standard,” he said.

However, Dr Harris Steinman, of the Food and Allergy Testing and Consulting Services, said he had contacted Waldis last month, before Topic had highlighted the issue, to confront him about the “no sugar” and other claims on his chocolate labels.

“I pointed out to him that our lab ­analysis showed that the product contains 34% sugar, all of it sucrose. His claims were wrong.”

Steinman said his test had not found any honey (monosaccharides fructose and glucose) in the chocolate but only sucrose.

Debora van der Merwe, a food scientist, checked the labelling regulations and the list of sweeteners to further get to the bottom of the matter yesterday.

“Powdered or dehydrated honey is not included in the list of permissible sweeteners in the Sweetener regulations [R733 of 2012]. Honey is included in the definition of ‘added sugar’ in the labelling regulations,” she said.

So clearly, if honey is in a product, a claim of “no sugar added” doesn’t wash in terms of the regulations.

Becker said Topic had been formed to help consumers make informed choices based on accurate labelling information.

“There are many suppliers who strive to have honest labels, and in order to build consumer confidence in those products, it is necessary to identify those labels which are not accurate.”

Consumers can nominate products for testing via Topic’s social media channels (, Twitter ( or anonymously

• Send your consumer complaints and compliments to

Read more on:    nutrition

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