FMF objects to imposition of new costs, unconstitutional regulations on food industry
The Free Market Foundation (FMF) submitted its comment on the proposed Regulations Relating to the Labelling and Advertising of Foodstuffs to the Department of Health on 28 April. These regulations seek to introduce a costly and paternalistic new labelling regime for food in South Africa.
The FMF objects to these regulations being adopted.
The Constitution recognises the human dignity of every adult South African consumer, which as a necessary implication means they are capable of exercising their faculties rationally when exercising their retail habits. By mandating food manufacturers to print certain things on labels in addition to the multiple, already existing mandated labels, consumer choice is undermined.
The regulations, insofar as they seek to dictate what food businesses may and should say, down to the font size on the label, is an unjustifiable infringement of the right to freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution. More importantly, the regulations seek to limit the praise and endorsements that may be printed on food packaging and by whom. In addition to limiting freedom of expression, freedom of association is also thereby threatened.
The regulations additionally propose to establish an institution that will certify product endorsements. No member of a free society, in particular professionals who work in the health or any other sector, should be expected to seek permission from government before they may associate with a particular product.
The Constitution allows only expression that incites imminent violence, advocates for war, or advocates for hatred that constitutes incitement to cause harm, to be limited. Compulsory product labelling falls comfortably outside of government’s constitutional powers.
Mandatory labelling is already a feature of South Africa’s retail landscape, in the form of the Guideline Daily Amounts on Foodstuffs. At the significant expense of businesses and consumers during a period of substantial economic downturn characterised by high unemployment and no growth, government proposes to intensify labelling.
Any additional costs imposed on businesses operating in South Africa will ultimately be passed to the South African consumer.
“This is the last thing our economy needs,” says FMF Legal Researcher Zakhele Mthembu. “Government ought not be in the business of making life more expensive for an already dismal economy and society.”
The FMF regards these regulations as indicative of a government with backward priorities in our economic context.