Our zeroes this week are the well-known retail food stores involved in the food label scandal – amounting to abuse of power and position – that broke this week.
Earlier this week media reported on an investigation by the National Consumer Commission – an agency of the Department of Trade and Industry – that exposed underhanded behaviour by 84 retailers in Mpumalanga and North West. The retailers, including Shoprite, Spar and U-save, were found guilty of tampering with labels of certain foods, with the result that foods were still on the shelves long after their expiry dates.
Under the Consumer Protection Act, it’s an offence to alter, remove or falsify a food label. The retailer is not allowed to "either directly or indirectly express or imply a false, misleading or deceptive representation concerning a material fact to a consumer". Sanctions could involve 12 months in jail, a fine of R1-million, or up to 10% of annual turnover. Yet, the commission found labels that had been torn off, covered up with homemade labels containing fake expiry dates, or manually altered with marking fluid. Other products had no labelling at all.
Spokespeople have attributed the incidences to human error (Shoprite Checkers), while others have explained that shops in their respective chains are owned by franchisees (Spar and OK Foods) who should individually be held responsible. According to Business Day, team head Ntsako Khoza said that at least one shop manager had “admitted that he had instructed his staff to remove the labels from products that had passed their expiry date, saying he did not have enough time to sell the products and was losing money”.
Products affected include staples such as milk, eggs, meat and cheese, as well as baby formula and meat.