Failure to disclose the ingredients contained in food products constitutes a breach of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA), the National Consumer Commission (NCC) said on Friday.
The commission is studying a report which claims that undeclared meat was found in some South African meat products.
"Consumers have every right to be informed of the ingredients contained in food products so that they may make informed choices. Failure to do so by any party in the supply chain would constitute a breach of the CPA," NCC acting commissioner Ebrahim Mohamed in an interview on radio station SAfm.
Last week, it was reported that research conducted by a study group at the University of Stellenbosch found the presence of donkey, water buffalo, goat and other undisclosed meat products in certain processed foods available at retail stores in South Africa.
Following this, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies asked the NCC to urgently investigate the matter of meat labelling in the country.
Mohamed said it was imperative that whatever was put out for human consumption complied with the labelling and disclosure requirements of the CPA.
In terms of the CPA, each and every person or supplier within the value chain has a responsibility to ensure that they do not knowingly apply to any goods a trade description that is likely to mislead the consumer.
"I would need to read the report by the Stellenbosch group. We may need to check for ourselves whether that is sufficient in terms of what is required for the investigation. We may have to have some tests conducted ourselves to satisfy ourselves," he said in the radio interview.
If indeed there has a breach of law, the commission can adopt an approach that gives a compliance element where it gives companies limited time to comply with the necessary sections of the Act.
"Failure to do that could result in the issuing of a compliance notice to compel anyone in the supply chain to comply with the law. If there is non-compliance with the order, the commission can refer the matter to the Consumer Tribunal for a penalty," the acting commissioner said.
The NCC, which is an agency of the Department of Trade and Industry, is charged with enforcing functions assigned to it in terms of the CPA, which aims to establish national norms and standards relating to consumer protection, as well as provide for improved standards of consumer information in the country.