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March 20, 2008

Fraudsters making quick buck off "organic" label in South Africa

Food fraudsters are making a quick buck on food passed off as “organic.”

Diana Callear, the managing director of Ecocert-Afrisco, an international organic-food certifying body, said there a number of fraudulent organic food producers in South Africa.

And due to a lack of legislation governing the industry, they can’t be stopped.

The legislation that prescribes the minimum requirements organic food producers must adhere to has still to be passed. This means producers can pass uncertified food off as organic, and claim “organic” status on their food labels, says Callear.

The law is in draft form and has been sent to the World Trade Organisation for approval, before the bill can be made into law in South Africa, she said. Until then, consumers will have to be wary of what they buy.

“Most of the big retailers, such as Woolworths and Pick n Pay, are careful. They make sure the products they buy are certified,” Callear said. “Corner shops are where it’s happening the most, and there’s nothing we can do to stop it.”

Crispin Jackson, an organic fruit and vegetable farmer near Johannesburg, said many producers claimed organic status on food labels, because it meant they could charge more for their products. He said, “There must be a certification logo and number on the label. A statement saying ‘Certification Held at Source’ is meaningless.”

Callear suggests consumers ask in stores for “certified organic” food rather than just “organic” food.

One of the reasons behind the false claims is that certification is an expensive process.

“It’s difficult to get certification from a reputable certifier for less than R7000 a year,” Callear said.

Ernest Klokow, general manager of Organics SA, said the organisation cannot penalise producers for false claims until the legislation is passed. The best it can do is ask the producer to stop the false labelling, and threaten to publicise the fact they are not certified producers.

“When the law is in place we can take legal action,” Klokow said. “Local certifiers are using European standards, but there are still discrepancies,” he said.

The Times, SA

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