We’re all invited… to participate in public hearings on the Agricultural Product Standards Amendment Bill 2014, taking place around the country during the month of April 2015. See link below for schedule of when they’ll be in your area .1 “What has this to do with me?” you may well ask. Well actually, quite a lot. Every time any of us go grocery shopping, the information provided on product labels and our ability to make informed purchasing choices, are affected by this Act. The Act, which essentially underpins the sale of agricultural products in South Africa, was originated in 1990, i.e. pre-democracy, when fairness, transparency, and human rights were not part of the picture in South Africa – including the right of every citizen to make informed purchasing decisions, based on accurate and transparent food labelling. In 1993 the Act was updated to eliminate gender bias throughout the text, which referred only to males. Now in 2015, it’s being proposed that the term : “management control system” be inserted into the document, so that there can be better control over how a product is produced, handled, stored, processed and distributed, and also over any claims or statements associated with the product, such as method of production, quality and food safety. This would make things a lot clearer for consumers, who could then be assured that products have been produced and audited following prescribed standards, and labelled accordingly. So in future if a carton of eggs is labelled “free-range eggs“, consumers will know that the eggs have been produced according to a prescribed “management control system“, which will define, the standards set by DAFF of this particular method of production. This will at least help to create a single protocol for the term “free-range” in South Africa. At the moment consumers are not aware that there are varying protocols on the claim ‘free range’ which producers and retailers privately register with SAMIC (South African Meat Industry Company) who is appointed by DAFF to audit these registered protocols. The result is that consumers are not being allowed to make an informed choice when purchasing free range as no two definitions are the same.
DID YOU KNOW CAGE EGGS ARE THE INDUSTRY NORM? Is it clear to you from the label below how these “fresh“, “grain fed” eggs were produced?
WHY DON’T CAGE EGGS NEED TO BE LABELLED IN SOUTH AFRICA? It’s clear that the method of production is not clear to consumers from the packaging, and that in some cases producers are deliberately trying to imply that their product is free range when it isn’t. Therefore surely the same laws that are being proposed for “free-range” and “organic” eggs should be applied to all eggs – i.e. “eggs from caged hens” too – in order to make it clear? The obvious answer is yes. So why is our government and industry so determined not to label the method of production for cage eggs? Is there a reason they would prefer to keep consumers in the dark? In 2004 the EU introduced mandatory “method of production” labelling on all eggs. Since then all eggs produced in the EU have had to be labelled as either “eggs from caged hens“, “barn eggs” or “free range“.
WHAT CAME NEXT? As a result of this clearer labelling, sales of “free range” eggs in the UK alone, rose from 31% in 2003 to 51% in 2011. So in other words – clear label information in the EU regarding method of production had an effect on consumer choice. In South Africa a lack of clarity about which eggs are produced by caged hens, restricts the ability of consumers to decipher between products and make informed purchasing choices. This is particularly unfair on consumers whose first language is not English. While “free-range” egg sales overtook “cage egg” sales in the UK in 2011, only 3% of egg laying hens are “free-range” in South Africa.2 Added to this, it seems that many of our producers design their packaging to imply that products are “free-range” when they are not, often making it difficult for consumers who want to buy “free range” products to do so. With no legislation governing the term “free-range” in South Africa, many consumers have lost faith in the validity of the term too, which ranges from truly “free-range” hens on pasture, to what is essentially “barn raised” hens, with limited access to small, barren outdoor spaces. Can you see why accurate labelling of the method of production, according to a prescribed “management control system” is so important? LABELLING MATTERS A study published by the UK group Labelling Matters3 in July 2013, shows that eight out of ten consumers in the EU want this mandatory labelling law to apply to meat and dairy products too. Consumers want to know what they are buying, and don’t want to be misled by the very real danger of businesses trying to cash in on the premium prices they can charge for the illusion of higher welfare food.
Is it clear to you whether this pork was sow stall free, considering the press release : “Customers will be able to purchase sow friendly fresh pork at Woolworths from the end of September 2014. From the end of December 2014, all Woolworths branded fresh processed and cured pork products, such as bacon, boerewors and sausages, will follow the same farming practices as fresh.” 4
In South Africa, eggs, dairy and meat must all be strictly controlled by prescribed “management control systems” and clearly labelled accordingly, or consumers will never be sure that they are getting what they pay for. If you think South African consumers deserve the same clarity of labelling which the EU has enjoyed since 2004, and which Australian, New Zealand, Canadian and American consumers are pushing their governments for too – then do either attend the public hearing in your area, or voice your point of view by writing to Billy Makhafola, Directorate Food Safety & Quality Assurance – BillyM@daff.gov.za If the Cape Town hearing was anything to go by, you will be in the minority – outnumbered by industry people, who say they don’t understand your point of view, and that perhaps you are at the wrong meeting. But consumers are key stakeholders in this industry – our opinion matters and it’s important for our interests to be heard too. The premise that factory farmed food is the norm, and therefore doesn’t need to be labelled must be strongly resisted. This public invitation by government to attend the hearings is a welcome democratic step, which we consumers should all seize.
1http://www.nda.agric.za/docs/media/invitation%20to%20participate%20in%20public%20hearing%20on%20apsabill2014.pdf 2 http://www.health24.com/Diet-and-nutrition/Food-safety/Free-range-organic-grass-fed-do-you-know-what-youre-eating-20120721 3 http://www.labellingmatters.org/images/LM-News-EU-FINAL-ENG-Landmark-study-shows.pdf 4 http://www.woolworthsholdings.co.za/media/news_display.asp?Id2=650