Food Labelling
– Can you read this?

By: Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturers’ Association (TTMA), Ismahieel Ali  |   January 5th, 2019

FOOD LABELLING

In 2013, the global food industry was hit hard by the horse meat scandal where products labelled beef contained horse meat and consumers were not aware of this fiasco. A Dutch meat wholesaler was later convicted of having sold over 300 tons of horse meat, labelled as beef, to over 500 companies.

Further to this, the milk scandal of 2008 had brought concerns over food fraud to the forefront in China. Chinese officials estimated that as many as six (6) babies died, and nearly 300,000 infants were sickened by dairy products contaminated with melamine, which had been added to watered-down milk in order to fool protein content tests. This is according to a report labelled ‘‘China’s Food Industry in Crisis: A Detailed Analysis of the FSL and China’s Enforcement Obstacles’’.

These scandals brought public awareness to the fact that there were severe shortcomings in food supply chain control mechanisms especially in the area of labelling. In Trinidad and Tobago, we continue to see an enormous amount of poorly labelled food and drugs entering our market space and onto our supermarket shelves. In light of this, it is becoming increasingly important to address the importance of proper food labels. The primary role of food labels is to inform consumers of the food’s nutritional values and ingredients, its manufacturer, health claims and possible allergens or some other potentially threatening food information. All this data helps people decide whether they will eat certain foods, which is why food producers need to adhere to the standards that are in place to do just that. 

Further to this, the milk scandal of 2008 had brought concerns over food fraud to the forefront in China. Chinese officials estimated that as many as six (6) babies died, and nearly 300,000 infants were sickened by dairy products contaminated with melamine, which had been added to watered-down milk in order to fool protein content tests. This is according to a report labelled ‘‘China’s Food Industry in Crisis: A Detailed Analysis of the FSL and China’s Enforcement Obstacles’’.

The legislation that monitors labelling standards in Trinidad and Tobago is the Food & Drugs Act of [1] 1960. This legislation requires that the food package carry specific information including: 

  • Main panel – This will include brand name or trade name, common name of food and correct declaration of the net contents of the package in terms of weight, volume or number.
  • Any panel except the bottom of the package – This will include:
  • complete list of ingredients in descending order of proportion
  • the name and address of the manufacturer or person preparing the food and its country of preparation or origin
  • Declaration by name of any added Class II, Class III or Class IV preservative e.g. sodium benzoate and a declaration of any added food colour or flavouring preparation
  • Any panel including the bottom of the package:
  • Expiry date, best before date, date mark 
  • Any applicable storage instructions e.g. keep frozen, refrigerate after opening 
  • Preparation instructions, where applicable and Instructions for safe handling, where applicable.
  • Labels for drug products (excluding most antibiotics and narcotics) must include the following information on the main panel of both the outer and inner labels:
  • Drug’s proper name; standard under which the drug was manufactured, including the abbreviation if mentioned in the regulations
  • Common name if not proper name
  • Name of manufacturer or distributor
  • Address of manufacturer or distributor, required on outer label only when contents are less than five millilitres
  • Lot number or batch number so indicated for drugs intended for internal or parenteral use (except for patent or proprietary medicinal ingredients) except on official drugs, shipping cases, and wrapping material. 

What are the consequences of poor labelling? 

From a company’s perspective, chronic label issues resulting in delayed shipments, customer fines, or the delivery of the wrong product can turn customers away to seek alternate sources of supply. This negatively affects market share and margins, leads to loss of brand credibility, and increases customer dissatisfaction. We are also faced with the possibility of product recalls as well.  

From a company’s perspective, chronic label issues resulting in delayed shipments, customer fines, or the delivery of the wrong product can turn customers away to seek alternate sources of supply. This negatively affects market share and margins, leads to loss of brand credibility, and increases customer dissatisfaction. We are also faced with the possibility of product recalls as well.  

From a national perspective, there is an outcry from the public for the Government to be more vigilant of these products and for additional resources to provide to regulatory agencies that need to monitor labeling of products.  

Looking at the other extreme, consumers can misinterpret these labels and thus misalign their personal preferences and their actual food purchases.        

What is being done?

In Trinidad and Tobago, there is a need to monitor labels as there has been an infiltration of products with poor labels. The state-run agency Chemistry Food and Drug Division (CFDD) is responsible for overseeing and taking proactive measures in addressing labelling standards.

In an attempt to tackle this problem, the Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturers’ Association (TTMA) has established a Trade Desk Officer to focus on the investigation of illicit trade and unfair trading practices, which also includes noncompliance with labelling regulations, in Trinidad and Tobago.  This Trade Desk is being implemented to build capacity, strengthen partnerships and implement strategies to combat the illicit trade of products in and about the manufacturing sector.

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