Daily Archives: April 5, 2015

Consumers Exposed As Cheap, Unlabelled Products Flood Market

The food control and regulatory system in Zimbabwe is plagued by a myriad of challenges which have severely compromised food safety in the country, experts have said.

The influx of cheap food imports has heralded a new era which poses a huge public health risk that authorities are incapable of controlling.

Monitoring and enforcing food regulations is weak and with the growing informal sector all sorts of food items are finding their way onto the Zimbabwean market which is liberalised and prone to abuse.

Food items labelled in foreign languages has become a common feature on the streets. Most of these items would have been smuggled into the country from countries like Zambia, Mozambique and South Africa.

Because they are cheap, these products become more popular than those in local supermarkets. There is now a growing trend of buying groceries from the streets and tuckshops that have sprouted all over.

“Consumers should be wary of such products because if the labels are written in foreign languages it becomes impossible for people to make an informed decision,” cautioned Harare City health director Prosper Chonzi.

He said it was irresponsible and criminal of those that imported such food items as they were putting the lives of innocent people at risk.

“Food labels should not only be in languages that are understood, but should bear details of the manufacturer so that if there is a problem the product can be traced back to the plant,” said Chonzi.

But his warning will most likely go unheeded as both the consumers and the vendors are unconcerned about of the health risks as they concentrate on putting food on the table in a difficult economic environment.

A snap survey on the streets confirmed this scenario.

Faresi Sakala (34), from Epworth sells her various foodstuffs and other wares from a pavement along Jason Moyo Avenue in central Harare. Most of her goods which range from bath soap to food items like pasta, snacks, bottled flavoured juice are labelled in Portuguese.

“My customers do not have a problem with the foreign labels. They can clearly see this is spaghetti here so what is the problem?” she says, clearly annoyed by the question.

As if to prove her point, a customer walks up to her and asks the price for a large bar of chocolate scribbled in some strange language.

Without a single glance at the label or what is written there, the young lady grabs the bar and pays Sakala before walking away, her chocolate safely tucked in her purse.

Sakala gives the, “I-told-you- solook and smirks at me for doubting her in the first place.”

Dreadlocked Akim sells an assortment of chocolates right at the entrance of a popular food store at Copacabana bus terminus. He proudly shows off his goodies which he says are very popular with the ladies.

“My prices are very fair and I have all sorts of chocolates; milk chocolate, dark chocolate and some with fruits or nuts,” he boasts.

Most of his products are labelled in an unfamiliar language but just like Sakala, he’s not concerned at all.

The Training and Research Support Centre (TARSC) Community Based Research and Training programme carried out an assessment in 2013 to determine the level of compliance with provisions of the Food and Food Standards (Food Labelling) Regulations, 2002 and the Public Health (Breast Milk Substitutes and Infant Nutrition) Regulations, 1998. The exercise was carried out in high and low income urban and rural settings.

The assessment indicated poor compliance with the required font size on labels, packaging numbers, expiry dates and information on artificial flavouring or chemical preservatives.

In relation to breast milk substitutes, 12% of the labels did not show the conditions the food must be stored in, 15% did not have a batch number, and 6% did not show the expiry date. Nearly a third of the labels were easily separable from the container, and did not make clear that the product was a supplement to and not a replacement to breast milk, especially in imported products.

“There was even a bottle of NAN formula milk for babies which was written in Portuguese,” said Artwell Kadungure from TARSC.

The assessment also exposed that nearly a tenth of the food labels created a false impression on the food. A majority of the victims of this practice were found mostly in rural areas, middle and low income areas.

On the issue of food containing Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) TARSC said they were concerned because the food items did not declare the nature of the product.

“This is despite the prevalence of foods from outside Zimbabwe’s borders, particularly from South Africa. This area may need further investigation supported by laboratory tests,” said Kadungure.

Zimbabwe’s National Health Strategy 2009-2013 (MoHCC, 2009) proposes that health is promoted by, among other measures, ensuring food for sale to the public meets certain standards and is sold and prepared in a manner and on premises that comply with public health regulations.

A situational analysis on food control carried out by Felistas Pswarayi from the institute of Food, Nutrition and Family Sciences at the University of Zimbabwe’s Faculty of Science, states that control and regulation of food systems is fragmented and lacks clear mechanisms to coordinate the activities.

“This, therefore, makes it difficult to ensure food safety throughout the food chain.

Currently state authorities which include the ministry of health are in charge of food regulation through the food advisory board, but lack of the requisite resources is a major cause for weaknesses in the food control system.