Food legislation in South Africa

Food legislation in South Africa is a little messy. This article provides an overview structure of the departments involved and the scope of their work. We also address the other elements of compliance including corporate social responsibility, corporate governance, health and safety, and environmental legislation.

It’s no secret that the structure and enforcement of our food legislation is a little “fragmented”.  The World Health Organisation (WHO), even the departments themselves are on record saying as much. For now, it’s not going to change so we have to figure it out. And that’s where we come in – to help navigate through the maze. Please note this article refers only to NATIONAL legislation. We will tackle provincial and by-laws separately.

So here are the Government departments involved with food legislation:

Food safety and quality legislation

There are three government departments directly involved with food. Now you understand the challenges which the food industry faces.

 The Department of Trade and Industry

The Department of Trade and Industry (also known as the dti - not, it's not a misspelling).  The dti is responsible for commercial policy and industrial policy. The dti and its subsidiary agencies are involved in promoting economic development, Black Economic Empowerment, implementing commercial law (including companies law and intellectual property law), promoting and regulating international trade, and consumer protection.

Food industry activities are directly affected by the following activities of the dti:

The Department of Agriculture, land reform and rural development (DALLRD – previously DAFF)


The Department of Agriculture, land reform and rural development is responsible for overseeing and supporting South Africa's agricultural sector, as well as, ensuring access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food by the country's population.

Directorates in the DALRRD and what they do.

  • Food safety and quality assurance
    This branch regulates the quality and food safety of certain agricultural products in terms of the Agricultural Product Standards Act, 1990 (Act No. 119 of 1990), and to control the production, sale, import, and export of certain alcoholic products in terms of the Liquor Products Act, 1989 (Act 60 of 1989) and for matters connected therewith.

There are requirements for export and local markets. This is also the WTO contact point for SPS notifications.



The Department of Health


The Department of Health is responsible for the health sector in South Africa. The Food Control directorate within the department is also responsible for ensuring the safety of food in South Africa. They act as South Africa’s National Contact Point for the joint FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC), International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN), and the European Union Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) – they know people who know things about food safety!

The legislation under this directorate deals with what may be in food, what may not be in food, hygiene requirements, and labeling. But so do the others!


OHS, Environmental & CSR legislation

There are other governmental departments for the other focus areas.


 Occupational health and safety legislation for the food industry

The Department of Labour publishes legislation that regulates labour practices and activities. This covers occupational health and safety issues as well as employment practices.



Environmental management in the food industry

The Department of Environmental Affairs is mandated to give effect to the right of citizens to an environment that is not harmful to their health or wellbeing and to have the environment protected for the benefit of present and future generations. The Department manages legislative requirements relating to Oceans and Coastal Management, Climate Change and Air Quality Management, Biodiversity and Conservation, Chemicals and Waste Management, and environmental programmes. Be warned there is a lot. Forestry and fisheries now fall under this department. All recycling activities are also located here.

Corporate social responsibility within the food industry

The legal impetus behind CSR is currently jointly through the Department of Environmental Affairs and the Department of Employment & Labour as indicated above. Although corporate social responsibility goes further than minimum legal requirements, the impact of a company on its community is addressed by these two departments.

The Department of Employment & Labour addresses sustainable HR practices as well as skills development which plays an important role in community upliftment.

The dti also adds to this through its economic empowerment strategy. Find out all you need to know about B-BBEE is on their website above.

There are many initiatives in place by the Department of Agriculture, Land reform and rural development to promote and develop emerging businesses and sustainable methods of farming. Make sure you consult their website too.