South Africa

Health Minister’s new food label plans go too far – law firm

Webber Wentzel partner Yolandi Robbertse said the Health Minister’s recently published draft regulations for the labelling and advertising of food in South Africa go too far and could chase multinational companies out of the country.

The minister’s proposed regulations aim to address issues such as obesity and misleading advertising.

Some of the key changes outlined in the draft regulations include:

  • The introduction of specific front-of-pack labelling (FOPL) for foodstuffs containing certain ingredients or exceeding nutrient cut-off values.
  • Restrictions on what can be displayed on FOPL and who the foodstuffs can be advertised to, particularly prohibiting marketing to children.
  • Warning labels must be in black and white.
  • Detailed provisions regarding health claims made on food labels.

Robbertse told 702’s The Money Show that while the minister’s intentions are good and stricter regulation is required, these draft regulations could significantly impact stakeholders if implemented as they are.

“They have the right intentions. But how they go about it is not in line with the law. It’s not in line with the protection companies deserve regarding their brands and trademarks. And that is a significant problem,” she said.

On Webber Wentzel’s website, Robbertse argues that brand owners must undertake significant re-branding exercises and change their trademarks, copyright portfolios, and advertisements. 

She said these additional costs come at a challenging economic time, with rising production and distribution costs.

Yolandi Robbertse

“The draft regulations have the potential to significantly damage companies that have spent decades building their brands and relationships with consumers,” she said.

“Not only could international entities decide to leave the market, which South Africa can ill afford, but the additional costs relating to compliance with FOPL and extensive warning signs will inevitably (at least in part) be passed onto the consumer who is already wilting under the pressure of ever-rising costs.”

In addition, Robbertse said the draft regulations draw inspiration from models used in Chile, the European Union, and Australia, with the most restrictive measures taken from the Chilean model.

In 2016, Chile adopted extremely strict regulations to address child obesity. Yet, Chile’s obesity rates have climbed from 51.2% in 2016 to 58% in 2022. 

“Recent studies conducted globally indicate that there is limited evidence of the impact of unhealthy food advertising on dietary behaviour,” she said. 

“Models used in Australia, Canada or the European Union – whilst imposing strict requirements – have been proven to be a better fit for business and offer an alternative approach to the Chilean model.”

Robbertse said the Health Department also neglected to investigate how food labelling and advertising impacts South African consumers.  

“So we don’t have anything to rely on, and they’ve just imposed these very draconian regulations to achieve some goal that they’ve set out for themselves and haven’t given the industry the background and the in-depth studies to demonstrate why that’s really necessary.”


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