Phumla Williams. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
Phumla Williams. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

TRADE and Industry Minister Rob Davies has asked the National Consumer Commission to conduct an urgent investigation into the incorrect labelling of meat products, which has been a source of "alarm and panic" for consumers since it was revealed that some meat products such as mince and sausages have been adulterated with various kinds of unlabelled meat.

Acting Cabinet spokeswoman Phumla Williams said at a post-Cabinet media briefing on Thursday that the investigation was prompted because the issue "may have far and wide-ranging implications and impact on the broader consumer public".

The minister’s action arose out of the research findings of a study group at the University of Stellenbosch, which found donkey and other forms of meat were present in sampled products.

Section 29 of the Consumer Protection Act sets out the general standards for marketing goods and services and stipulates that parties in the supply chain must not market any goods or services in a manner that is likely to imply a false or misleading representation about them.

National Consumer Commission acting commissioner Ebrahim Mohamed said all stages of the supply chain could be held responsible for incorrect labelling and all would be subjected to the investigation. However, the commission would probably start with the retail industry.

He said the screening committee of the commission would decide on the scope of the investigation at a meeting on Thursday and the probe would begin immediately thereafter. He also noted that offenders could be ordered by the commission to comply by a certain deadline and if they failed to do so, a compliance notice could be issued. Again, if there is a failure to comply, the National Consumer Tribunal can impose administrative penalties.

The tribunal is also empowered to declare a particular type of conduct a prohibited practice, which entitles consumers to claim redress against offenders.

Mr Mohamed said the commission hoped to finish the investigation as soon as possible.

Other feedback

With regards to energy, the Cabinet also approved the publication of the draft revised strategic stocks policy for crude and refined products and a draft strategic stocks implementation plan for public comment. The policy and implementation plan makes recommendations on the stockholding levels South Africa should maintain.

"This presents the opportunity to capture energy efficiency and sustainable energy development as a key resource required to meet the demands of a developing country," Ms Williams said.

The Cabinet was "encouraged" by the continued increase in companies investing more in research and development, particularly science and innovation projects. The progress emerged from the 2011-12 report of the research and development tax incentive programme was submitted to the Cabinet this week. The incentives under section 11D of the Income Tax Act aim to encourage investment in scientific and technological research and development activities.

The report will be submitted to Parliament.

The Cabinet welcomed the commitment by stakeholders in the mining industry for a framework for peace and stability, and encouraged other stakeholders to participate in the process, which it heralded as a "positive step towards restoring stability" in the industry.