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Updated 07 October 2015

Large retailers caught tampering with food labels

Large supermarkets in North West and Mpumalanga have been caught out by the Consumer Commission for tampering with food labels on expired products.

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It is a well-known fact that global consumer confidence in the food industry is at an all-time low with food scandals and cases of food fraud continuing to make global headlines.

In SA the news headlines were buzzing when the National Consumer Commission revealed widespread altering, replacement and removal of food labels.

They investigated some 84 retailers, including Shoprite, Spar, U-Save and OK Foods, in Mpumalanga and North West.

Business Day Live reported that a number of South Africa’s major retailers in Mpumalanga and North-West were caught tampering with food labels on items like eggs, milk, tea, mince and baby formula.

The scandal involves information on labels being removed, entire labels being removed, and relabelling of foods with false expiry dates.

Read:

- The full report on Business Day Live
  
- Consumer reaction and implicated retailers on TimesLive
- Visit the National Consumer Commission for information on how they assist consumers

WATCH: CNBC Africa talks to Ebrahim Mohamed, the commissioner at the National Consumer Commission about the incident.

Big fines


The National Consumer Commission told Business Day it will extend its investigation to the rest of South Africa, as they believe that the situation is no better in the other seven provinces.

It is an offence under the Consumer Protection Act to alter, falsify or remove a food label, and guilty parties may be imprisoned or fined R1 million or as much as 10 percent of their annual turnover.

Read: Food expiration labels misleading

The practice of tampering with food labels can be downright dangerous to consumers and can lead to fatal food poisoning, especially among people with compromised immune systems. Food poisoning can result in kidney failure, birth defects and meningitis, to name but a few.

The main reason, according to the interview by Business Day with one of the shop owners, is because owners and managers tamper with food labels and especially expiry dates is because they want more time to sell their products and don’t want to lose money.  

Human error could also be involved, especially in large stores that carry thousands of items.

The commission’s head of investigations, Prudence Moilwa, told Business Day that all the guilty shops had undertaken to stop these potentially harmful practices.    

Currently global consumer confidence is low, with food scandals and cases of food fraud adding to the drop and continuing to make global headlines.

Read:

The FNB/BER Consumer Confidence Index

All 24.com articles on consumer confidence

Issue raises huge concerns

It is one year on since the labelling meat scandal in 2013 which created huge negative exposure for retailers and it’s not clear what has been done to ensure this doesn't happen again.  

Do manufacturers and retailers have checks and balances in place to ensure mislabelling doesn't happen?

Is it really a case of “human error” as some retailers have stated? Is it operational inefficiency? Is there an integrity issue?

Read: Be label-wise

No one is writing about this, and these questions should be put to various players to get to the bottom of what seems to be an escalating issue.

Below are some facts and comments from FoodSure, a South African food label verification company launched in 2013:

Follow updates on meat scandals on News24

Local issues: 

·         2014 - SA bakeries to remove controversial ADA additive from its bread chemical.

·         2014 -Two major South African food suppliers are in the midst of another price-fixing scandal – this time around margarine and oil products.

·         2013 - Major supermarkets exposed in meat label scandal.

·         2013 - Bread price fixing scandal goes to constitutional court

·         2013- SA Consumers face food labelling scare

·         2011 - South African Muslims reacted with outrage to allegations that a leading meat importer labelled pork as halaal.

·         2010- Frozen chicken horror

·         2008- Nestle recalls baby Formula

·         2007 - Bread price fixing scandal

·         2007 - Chinese ingredient producers would appear to be cause of toxic pet foods and their market recalls in South Africa.

·         2005- Sudan red scare spreads

Global Issues:

·         2014 - Heinz recalls some infant cereal in China after excessive lead is found

·         2014 – Chinese meat supplier sells expired chicken and beef

·         2014- Fake food scandal

·         2014 – China meat scandal hits Starbucks, Burger King, KFC

Image: A McDonald's restaurant opens its doors early on July 24, 2014 in Shanghai. Chinese police on July 23 detained five people from a unit of US food supplier OSI Group, officers said, in a case involving expired meat sold to fast food giants including McDonalds and KFC. AFP PHOTO / JOHANNES EISELE (Photo credit: JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images)

·         2014 - On the anniversary of the horse meat scandal UK research reveals that few lessons have been learnt from the horsemeat crisis.

·         Recent food scandals in China as well as reports over pork found in a well-known chocolate brand in Malaysia shows that this is a recurring problem around the world.

·         2013 - EU report drafted by the Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety found that “recent food fraud cases have exposed different types of food fraud such as replacing key ingredients with cheaper alternatives, wrongly labelling the animal species used in a meat product, incorrectly labelling weight, selling ordinary foods as organic, unfairly using origin or animal welfare quality logos, labelling aquaculture fish as wild-caught, counterfeiting and marketing food past its "use-by’ date".

·         2012- McDonalds and Pink Slime

Quotes from Amanda Rogaly from FoodSure


"We don’t believe the industry is out to intentionally mislead the consumer, but rather that there are gaps in the operational systems of manufacturers and retailers.

"Most large manufacturers in SA understand that supplier, distributor and retailer controls are essential to bringing consumers safe, high-quality foods but we know that gaps exist and there are times the media picks on this."

Read: Food labelling legislation - will it help consumers?

“We at FoodSure offer a double-check to complement internal compliance processes to verify that retailers are in fact up to speed with the legal requirements on labelling and are complying with these regulations.

"By using an independent company to double-check their internal quality assurance processes, manufacturers and retailers can reduce their risk while protecting their consumers at the same time.”

Read more:

Supreme chicken aftermath
Dieters trust food labels
Women who read food labels stay thinner


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