New rules proposed for ‘junk food’ and alcohol in South Africa

The Department of Communications and Digital Technologies has proposed stricter regulations around the advertising of alcohol and unhealthy food in South Africa.

In its draft audio and audiovisual content services (AAVCS) white paper published last week, the department said that the regulations should be introduced in an effort to protect the country’s children from potentially harmful advertising.

“The draft white paper proposes that to protect children, the regulator must in respect of the scheduling of adverts make regulations for all AAVCS licensees on the advertising of alcoholic beverages and harmful foods that are high in salt, sugars, fat, saturated fats or trans-fatty acids or that otherwise do not fit national or international nutritional guidelines.

While the white paper does not prescribe how these advertisements should be regulated, government has previously hinted at the introduction of ‘warning labels’.

In 2019, the Department of Health said that it is looking to introduce new regulations to allow for front-of-pack warning labels.

“This will assist people to know what is in packaged food because most people don’t know what they are eating,” the department said.

“The problem will then be how to deal with the food that isn’t packaged. People are excited to buy those combos – the chicken, chips and a fizzy drink – without knowing what is in them.”

The regulations were set to be introduced by late 2019/early 2020, but have still not been mooted at the time of writing.

In countries such as Chile, unhealthy products also cannot be advertised on Chilean television or the internet, or use toys, cartoons or stickers to encourage children to eat them

However, critics have argued that these labels impact on consumer choice. The issue has been further complicated by other health taxes, with more than a dozen governments now having taxed sugary drinks and food high in salt and fat.

Alcohol rules

Regulations around alcohol advertising have previously been mooted by the government under the Liquor Amendment Bill.

According to the Southern Africa Alcohol Policy Alliance (Saapa SA), the bill was introduced in 2016 after the adoption of the new national Liquor Policy of 2016.

The bill was drafted by the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition and approved for public comment by Cabinet in September 2016.

Saapa SA said that the bill went through an extensive public consultation process but got stuck in the system in 2017 and has never been submitted to parliament for processing.

While this bill proposed changes to alcohol advertising in South Africa, a second draft of the bill – which remains unpublished – proposes additional restrictions around alcohol advertising in social media.

The changes proposed in the two bills are outlined in more detail below.

The first column outlines the proposed changes in the 2016 bill and the second column outlines the changes in the unpublished draft bill.

Update: This article has been updated with additional information from the Southern Africa Alcohol Policy Alliance.

Read: Why you could get fired for drinking while working from home in South Africa: legal expert

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New rules proposed for ‘junk food’ and alcohol in South Africa