No false food claims please!

01/09/2011 16:37

THE Consumer Council is urging food manufacturers, retailers and restaurants not to make false claim on their products.  This comes after the Council found one local food manufacturer and a restaurant that had made ‘Halal’ claims on some of their products without providing the necessary proof.

Fiji’s food laws are quite clear on claims that food manufactures and restaurants make. The Food Safety Regulations 2009, Section 24 deals specifically on prohibited claims.  Under Section 24(d), prohibited claims include claims which cannot be substantiated and under S24(i) claims of religious or ritual preparation, including but not limited to Halal and Kosher, when the food does not conform to the requirements of the appropriate religious or ritual authorities. In other words food manufacturers, retailers and restaurants that claim to be ‘Halal’ must be able to substantiate their claims by providing certification from a religious authority either local (e.g. Fiji Muslim League) or from overseas. The Fiji Muslim League is one local religious authority that provides ‘Halal’ certification based on its specified standards. ‘Halal’ certification is not infinite and provided the basis of periodical assessments by the certifying body.

The Council found that the food manufacturer in question failed to provide ‘Halal’ certification for one of its products that carried ‘Halal’ on its label. It was thus misleading consumers regarding the authenticity of its ‘Halal’ branding. The manufacturer has given an undertaking to remove the product from stores around the country in compliance with the law. The restaurant has also removed the term ‘Halal’ from its products after the Council’s intervention including the display of photocopied Halal Certificate. Both were unable to substantiate their ‘Halal’ claims, i.e. to provide the Halal certification for their products. They however, had certification for the imported ingredients they use, but ‘Halal’ certification is done for the total product in the manufacturing process, preparation and even cooking. The Council also verified this information with the “Halal” certification body based in Australia and New Zealand.

The Council is now warning all food manufacturers, retailers and restaurants who make prohibited claims that we will be referring them to the enforcement agencies if our surveillance teams or if consumers find them making unsubstantiated claims. The rule over prohibited claims is to protect consumers, especially those who do not eat certain food products because of certain religious requirements in regards to food preparation. Also there are consumers who are sensitive about food preparation from a nutritional point of view.

While the food laws have its requirements, Fiji’s fair trading laws also require traders not to mislead consumers. The Council is therefore urging the food industry and importers to be mindful of these laws.