South Africa. The National Consumer Forum on Monday called for the establishment of a dedicated unit to ensure that consumers were not exposed to unsafe food products.
NCF chairperson Thami Bolani said: "We are calling for a unit that involves the Department of Health, consumer organisations and the private sector."
Bolani said that while food safety fell under the ambit of the Health Department, he was not aware of any unit that maintained a vigil to ensure that food products on shelves in South African stores were safe.
The threat of melamine poisoning from food containing milk products from China has once again highlighted South Africa’s vulnerability to unsafe food imports, according to the National Consumer Forum.
Bolani said that South African’s vulnerability to such products did not come only from imports, but also from within the country.
"It is unacceptable that we only get news about food safety problems from information sources overseas, and do not have our own dedicated watchdog to look out for local consumers," said Bolani.
Sudan Red crisis
He said the current problem with Chinese milk products was similar to the Sudan Red crisis in early 2007, when the NCF sounded the alarm after receiving information from the global consumer body Consumers International.
After the media took up the issue and independently funded the testing of spices, it was found that South African retailers were selling food containing illegal, cancer-causing additives.
"Once again, we are faced with a situation where no government agency is taking the initiative to start checking which of the products on the shelves may contain melamine," said Bolani.
He said South Africa was importing increasing amounts of food and other products from China, where standards and processes to apply them were lax.
"Being part of the global trade in food means that we have to become far more vigilant about what crosses our borders," he said. "There is a huge amount of goods that also enter the country illegally, and which needs to be policed from within."
Comment could not immediately be obtained from the Department of Health.
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration as well as the Agriculture Department is responsible for that country’s food safety , while in Great Britain the Food Standards Agency plays the same role.
Posted: 29 September 2008