Food Labelling Concerns - Natural Products - Strategic Advice
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Food Labelling Concerns

Food Labelling Concerns

A few years ago, only people suffering from health issues like diabetes or allergies bothered to read packaging labels. Nowadays though, consumers, especially those who tend to buy natural foods and supplements, are far more aware.

They want to know what’s going into their food and health products, and consciously look to buy those that are low in, or even free of, ingredients like sugar, wheat and dairy, as well as fillers, binding agents and anything genetically modified.

This new behaviour is obviously a blow to the bottom line of food companies which are producing lower quality and/or processed products. To try to work around it, their strategy comes down to hiding harmful elements under ingredient names that are confusing or of which consumers are not yet aware.

When is HFCS not HCFS?

One example of this is the dreaded high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which is used in many processed products. As indicated by its name, this sweetener is derived mainly from corn, which is often genetically modified. It costs less than natural sugar and also has the added benefit of extending shelf life, saving the manufacturers money and effectively time too.

HFCS has been associated with numerous health issues, including:

  • Tooth decay
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Liver failure
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Leaky gut
  • Cancer
  • Dementia

When disguised on a label as “fructose”, this seems almost like a healthy ingredient, much like that found naturally in fresh fruit. In fruit, however, this forms part of a balanced profile, along with fibre, vitamins and minerals and enzymes. In contrast, “fructose” contains between 42 and 90% pure fructose, depending on the form being used. Even HFCS-90, the most damaging kind, usually appears on a label simply as “fructose”, or “fructose syrup”.

For interest’s sake, other names this can be disguised as are:

  • Fruit fructose
  • Crystalline fructose
  • Iso-glucose
  • Glucose syrup
  • Glucose/fructose syrup
  • Maize syrup
  • Corn syrup
  • Tapioca syrup

Food labelling in South Africa

In South Africa in recent years, food labelling has been a controversial subject, with strong views championed by consumer and advocacy groups. The good news is that the new food labelling and advertising regulations, R429, are far stricter and cover gaps left by R146, which was passed in 2010.

Its main focus is to ensure that product names and marketing information are not misleading, and ingredient labels are transparent, factual and correct. The mandatory information on labels includes:

  • All ingredients, from highest to lowest percentage of mass
  • Allergens
  • Indication of any genetic modification
  • Net weight, volume or number of packaging contents
  • Country of origin
  • Nutritional information
  • Batch number
  • Use by/best before dates
  • Name and address of the manufacturer, importer or distributor

All relevant products must also comply with the agricultural standards act.

These regulations are intended to create food safety, and to protect consumers, giving them the information they need to make informed decisions for themselves. How practical and enforceable they truly are though is still up for debate, and will only become clear as it comes fully into effect.

In the meantime, as a responsible business or retailer, what can you do? When preparing to purchase products to sell in your store, take some time to thoroughly check the ingredients on the labels. That way you’ll know that your customers truly are getting health products.

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