Healthy :: Draft Food Labelling Regulations to improve healthy lifestyle, South Africa

The new draft Regulations Relating to the Labelling and Advertising of Foodstuffs have been published by the Minister of Health in terms of the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act, (Act 54 of 1972), for public comment for a period of three months in the Government Gazette No. 30075 on 20 July 2007.

The current Regulations on the Advertising and Labelling of Foodstuffs, (R 2034) were promulgated in 1993 and have to be replaced to strengthen effectiveness, close all known ?loopholes? and incorporate new developments in scientific research as well as in international Codex Standards and Guidelines.

The draft regulations focus on several strategies to improve public health through healthy food choices and improved nutrition through special food formulations, which are based on the latest available scientific evidence. As the health literacy rate of our population increases, so does the importance of food labelling and the role that it can play in assisting consumers with reliable label information to make informed choices about healthier food options. Healthier food choices are an integral part of a healthy lifestyle.

The regulations made provision for an extensive list of new and amended definitions, mandatory date markings on most foods, as well as the indication of the country of origin and batch identification. Other amendments relate to specific conditions for nutritional information on food labels.

A better and more detailed guidance in terms of prohibited statements has been incorporated to deal with challenges of consumer deception and use of misleading information.

The regulations also seek to implement the Food and Agriculture Organisation and World Health Organisation?s Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health. As part of the implementation of the Strategy, the Department of Health identified foods that are not regarded as essential for a healthy lifestyle (see Annexure 6). The use of health and nutrition claims for such foods are prohibited and these foods cannot be advertised to children and on school premises, etc.

The regulations also set extensive conditions and criteria for nutrition and health claims on certain food labels and/or their advertising.

The regulations deal specifically with health and nutrition claims with the aim of ensuring more honest and responsible food labels and marketing practices. They are intended to promote consumer education by either highlighting particular nutritional content of food in a responsible manner or by indicating the role of a particular food or food component or nutrients in the maintenance of health. The criteria for all categories of nutrition claims (nutrient content, glycaemic index and comparative claims) and health claims (function, enhanced function, reduction of disease risk, probiotics, prebiotics and slimming claims), level the playing field for all food manufacturers and ensure the quality and reliability of information that is intended for consumers.

The list of common allergens is extended from 2 to 9 different allergen categories, which most commonly affect the general population and strict conditions and criteria have been included in the regulations to ensure responsible manufacturing and labelling practices in this regard.

The Department of Health urges all role-players, including manufacturers and consumer groups and the general public, to consider these regulations and submit their input to the Department. (Copies of the draft regulations are available from the Government Printers).