The labelling of food has always been governed by the
Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectant's Act of 1972 and its
regulations. These regulations have, however, now been
"tightened up" and modified to keep in line with
international trends. As of 1 March 2012, all food labels must have
been amended to comply with the new regulations.
The purpose of the amendments is to assist consumers in making
informed choices about food. The consumer's right to know has
been given priority and plays a vital role in the amended
regulations. Consumers should not be misled when making food
choices and should have the peace of mind of knowing that the
information listed on a label is correct and that there are no
misleading descriptions on the packaging.
The ambit of this article will be restricted to a discussion on
statements and claims which are now prohibited and which could be
regarded as misleading. The regulations do though cover a host of
other requirements and it is recommended that food manufacturers
take advice from labelling experts to ensure that their labels will
comply with the new regulations from March 2012.
Regulation 13 provides for "prohibited statements". It
provides that food labels and advertisements may not contain the
words, pictures, marks or descriptions which create the
impression that the food is endorsed by a health practitioner;
any words, pictures, marks or descriptions which create the
impression that the foodstuff is endorsed by or has been
manufactured by or in accordance with recommendations by an
organization unless approved the Director General and unless proof
is supplied that the organization is involved in generic health
an endorsement or testimonial of an individual in any form if
that endorsement or testimonial implies a nutrition claim;
an endorsement in the form of any logo, mark, symbol or
statement relating to the nutritional or safety properties of the
food unless that endorsement complies with the provisions of the
regulations and appropriate substantiation can be provided within
two working days;
the words "heath" or "healthy" or any other
words or symbols implying that the foodstuff in and of itself has
heath giving properties;
the words "wholesome" or "nutritious" or
any other word with a similar meaning;
a claim that a foodstuff provides complete or balanced
the word "cure" or any other medicinal claim, subject
to the amended provisions of the Medicines and Related Substances
Food manufacturers will now have to steer clear of the "old
faithful" claims such as HEALTHY, WHOLESOME and NUTRITIOUS. It
is also important to realize that these prohibitions extend to the
use of trade marks as well as descriptive terms and so trade mark
portfolios will need to be carefully scrutinized to ensure that
there is compliance with Regulation 13.
Regulation 47 provides for "misleading descriptions".
Regulation 47 provides that products which are linked to specific
protocols which are registered with the Department of Agriculture
in terms of the Agricultural Products Standards Act or National
Regulator for Compulsory Specifications Act can contain on their
packaging claims such as "grain fed", "grass
fed", "Karoo lamb", "natural lamb",
"country reared", "free range",
"pure" and "organic".
However, products which are not regulated in terms of these acts
may not contain statements to the effect of being fresh, natural,
pure, traditional, original, authentic, real, genuine, homemade,
farm house, handmade, selected, premium, finest, quality or best or
any other words or pictures which convey similar concepts unless
they are compliant with the United Kingdom Food Standards Agency
("FSA") criteria for the use of such terms in food
In broad terms, the FSA guidelines provide that "foods
should be sold without deceit and should be labelled and advertised
so as to enable the prospective purchaser to make a fair and
informed choice, based on clear and informative labeling".
This criterion needs to be applied when considering which words may
be used in relation to food products – whether as a
brand/trade mark or in a descriptive sense. At all times, it must
be clear that consumers are able to make a fair and informed choice
based on the content of the labelling. In addition, the
manufacturer must be able to substantiate any claims that are made
on the packaging.
As mentioned, manufacturers have until March 2012 to tidy up
their labelling. It is advisable, during this process, also to
scrutinize trade mark portfolios to ensure compliance with the
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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