Late last year the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) announced the designation of the first two assignees for local and import inspections pertaining to fresh produce, grain and its related products. According to DAFF, this designation was done after a lengthy and transparent selection process which started off with the invitation of prospective assignees in October 2015.
The assignees are designated in terms of section 2(3) of the Agricultural Product Standards (APS) Act No. 119 of 1990 and will be responsible for the implementation of section 3 and its associated supporting sections of the said Act.
In total 5 assignees have been appointed for the purposes of the application of the local/import regulations in the following categories:
Product Control for Agriculture (Prokon):
Grains and its related derivative products
Nejahmogul Technologies and Agric Services:
Dairy and imitation dairy products and Edible ices
Agency for Food Safety:
Poultry meat, Eggs and any other meat and meat products for which regulations may be promulgated
Impumelelo Agribusiness Solutions:
All processed products, including fruit juices and drinks, frozen fruit and vegetables, jam, jelly & marmalade, rooibos, honey, table olives, fat spreads, mayonnaise & salad dressings and vinegar, canned processed products (canned pasta, canned mushrooms, canned fruit and canned vegetables) and any other processed products and canned processed products for which regulations may be promulgated.
The implementation of these regulations was delayed for six months in order to allow the designated assignees to set up their operations and consult with the affected stakeholders. The first two assignees have been operational as from the 1st January 2017 throughout all the selling or inspection points; pack houses, silos, milling factories, processing facilities, distribution centres, retail level, wholesale, national fresh produce markets, bakeries, ports of entry, etc. The remaining assignees were expected to start operations by 1 June 2017.
The implication of the designation is that all the products mentioned above will be subjected to inspection by the assignees, at a cost to the owner/seller. The cost of inspection will be based on the gazetted tariffs which would have been properly informed by an objective cost recovery model.
The importance of implementing these regulations will result in the promotion of fair trade practices and consumer protection. Consistent quality products in keeping with claims will be sold to consumers and thus resulting in sellers being fairly rewarded for their production effort. The enforcement of the regulations will further result in the prevention of poor quality products being imported into South Africa. Both locally produced and imported products will be subjected fairly to the same regulation(s) under the enforcement wing of the assignees.
Although the press release by DAFF was certainly not news to major stakeholders in industry (we must remember all legislation is developed in a consultative process and there was also a period for public comment), the news was not met with cheers of joy.
Seeking to clarify the misconceptions and misunderstanding, Food Focus invited the responsible Director for Food Safety and Quality Assurance at DAFF, Mr. Billy Makhafola, and all the assignees to a workshop to clarify the issues in a neutral facilitated forum. With one exception, all assignees agreed to participate.
Director Billy Makhafola (DAFF) and Linda Jackson (Food Focus)
Speaking to a full house of industry representatives, Mr. Billy Makhafola outlined the basis for the appointment of the assignees. The Agricultural Product Standards Act No. 119 of 1990 allows the Minister to designate private companies to perform this role. Due to a lack of resources, the Minister has exercised this right. Prior to this, the regulations had not been enforced consistently which is cause for concern, as the purpose of the Act is to provide consumer protection by ensuring the quality of agricultural products (local and export) and through prevention of false or misleading description of products, amongst others.
Our favorite legal eagle, Janusz F Luterek, Esq., Partner at Hahn & Hahn Attorneys clarified the rights of industry in relation to the APS Act and its regulations. He highlighted the powers of the assignees in terms of search and seizure with a bona fide warrant and the penalties under the Act. The basis of the inspection in all cases are the regulations under the APS Act which clearly detail the requirements. Anything over and above these regulations would be grounds for appeal.
The assignees who agreed to present, Prokon and Impumelelo, laid out their business model and approach to the inspections. It was very clear from their presentation that Prokon are well versed in the process, having been assigned for export produce for some time. It was encouraging to note that they are in the process of seeking ISO 17020 accreditation to be formally recognised as a competent inspection body. Impumelelo, who were only designated in March are still in the process of industry consultations and it was clear from the audience that several important role players have not been consulted as yet.
In the open Q&A session, similar concerns were raised with Nejahmogul Technologies and Agric Services who are responsible for the dairy sector. The Director, Mr. Billy Makhafola invited those with concerns to engage with him directly, to ensure the due process is followed. Questions were raised concerning the practical implementation of the inspections, the size of samples and the allocation of costs. Agency for Food Safety offered clear explanations based on the recently gazette tariffs for their sectors. It is apparent that industry is not happy with the arrangements and there is a need for ongoing dialogue with all parties.
Delegates at the workshop
To close the proceedings, Dr Harris Steinman of Food and Allergy Consulting and Testing Services (FACTS), highlighted the growing concerns on food fraud and the need for enforcement of the regulations to protect the consumer. All the consumers in the room wholeheartedly agreed with him!
It is clear there are still many unresolved issues in this process, and some questions went unanswered as the answers have not yet been defined. The workshop allowed for lines of communication to be established that previously may not have existed. The coming months will see the roll out of the inspections by all assignees and inevitably more discussions with all the role players. For those companies who have been self-regulating according to the standards of the regulations under the APS Act, this should be a walk in the park. For those who have not, ignorance of the law will no longer be a defence.
This article was printed in the July edition of Food & Beverage Reporter - view here.
Due to popular demand an additional workshop will be held in August – make sure you register at www.foodfocus.co.za