Consumer protection, which includes being given access to a safe and dependable supply of food, is a fundamental requirement of any society. In transforming the South African food landscape, there have been gradual improvements to protect consumers, most notable with the advent of the Consumer Protection Act 68 of 2008. However, we still see unfit food products, especially in respect of mislabelled food products, reaching the store shelves.
Although there exists a plethora of legislation, and a multiplicity of agencies focused on food safety, the South African government has been unable to respond effectively to the continuous changes in the food safety environment.
Numerous challenges for government’s inability to re-adapt effectively to these rapid changes include the lack of coordination between agency functions, lack of active participation between the industry and the agencies, and the weak system of enforcement and sanctioning. Consumers always want more protection – and they should be afforded more. South Africa should strive towards a framework that focuses on the fundamental principles of food safety which include risk analysis, precaution, transparency and traceability.
Once again, it all boils down to the basics: the need for better transparency, access to information, and the need for a higher degree of participation between the industry and authority.
Food safety, health and consumer protection regulations are indispensable foundations of a food supply system which is both safe and nutritious. Consumers must therefore not back down from challenging the distributors, suppliers and retailers when it comes to the protection of their rights to food safety.