CERA – The Conscious and Ethical Retailer, Consumers and Producers Alliance
This is a coming together of some of the greatest leaders in the SA Food Revolution to address 50 Shades of Food Illusion. As things now stand we have some of the greatest leaders, activists, journalists, conscious consumers, farmers, and related businesses attending the launch workshops. Everybody is very excited about this initiative and despite feeling a little daunted (understatement) at the undertaking of this, every day I am reminded of why it is such a critical mission.
We need incorruptible and determined contributors to The SA Food Revolution to all come together into a focused alliance with consumers to shape this space. Without this, green-washing which is becoming so ridiculous my mind boggles and my patience snaps – is only going to get worse. Every week, I have samples put on my desk of things that do not belong in a store like this – yet because there are other ‘health and related’ stores like ours, there is an expectation that we will.
There are small, sometimes great artisans doing amazing things that have their products up in other stores, but we can’t take it on because the labelling is not in alignment with the labelling laws or the Consumer Protection Act. As a solution, we have started coaching artisans on how to get their products and labels retail fit.
Incorrectly labelled products, most especially in the green, ‘health’ and sustainable food space is currently the most mislabelled area of our food system. This isn’t good for the whole sector.
CERA will be the solution to this. It will bring us all together to work on vetting and checking new farmers and producers in the sustainable food space, quickly identify the charlatans, and misleading claims and stop them from tainting the whole revolution space with green-washing, bringing down the same illusion that characterised conventional food to this space.
If you are a conscious consumer and want to participate in this movement, consider joining the launch workshops, more information here. You will get to meet and interact with some of South Africa's greatest food activists, ethical retailers, farmers and food activists. Invitation is open to any person, organisation, ethical retailer, chef, food artisan, producer, NGO, or business interested in shaping the SA Food Revolution by contributing towards the creation of an alternate food system.
An Example Of Why SA Labelling Is Important: Coconut Water
That said, I need to chat quickly about the coconut water in-store, Raw C Coconut Water, endorsed by Chef Pete Evans. This product, though I think is the best I can find on the market right now, is an example of where labelling can get misleading and evidence that this happens in other countries as much as ours.
I like this coconut water because it answers questions I haven’t been able to have answered adequately enough before: Where are the coconuts coming from? Can this be verified and traced? Is it single source origin or using coconuts from multiple sources? Is there any added sugar? Is it made from concentrate or not? Does it contain preservatives or additives? Is there somebody to back the information?
So whilst Raw C Coconut Water answers those questions, the packaging is actually not in line with South African labelling law and is further evidence to me of the superiority of our Labelling Act. We have some great legislation in this country, truly, where we fall flat is on government enforcement, resources and expertise.
The fact is that the wording and the company name ‘Raw C’ and ‘raw hydration’ create a misleading impression that the contents are raw when actually the water – like any coconut water you will find that isn’t frozen – has to be. This is a great example of what our Consumer Protection Act means to do – to protect the consumer from misleading claims.
The company name is ‘Raw C’ – the coconut water is not. It is one of the least pasteurised we’ve found – flash pasteurised for only 2 seconds – but in terms of the law, it isn't ‘Natural’ or ‘Raw.' According to our ACT R146 which legislates through the Consumer Protection Act – how things are labelled – you cannot use the word ‘Natural’ on anything that has been altered from it’s whole, natural state. In this country you would not be allowed to use the word ‘Natural’ on a coconut water that has been flash pasteurised, even if only for 2 seconds. So the Johannesburg agent will be covering up the words ‘Natural’ on the packaging.
This is what we are on high alert for and what CERA will monitor and check in the food revolution space. Start looking at labels and look out for deceiving words. Educating yourself, so that you are empowered out there, is a critical part of the food revolution. If the wool can’t be pulled over your eyes – it’ll be more difficult for green-washers to target you.
Despite scrutinising green-washers, I have also had some great experiences with new artisans where I have coached them into proper and better labelling, and in the process discovered new and exciting things.
For example, there was a lady making kefir that we couldn't put on the shelf because the labelling wasn't sound, and I didn't know anything about the farm she was sourcing the dairy from. Then we chatted about the labels and I asked where the milk was coming from, and then she started describing a farm that got my blood pumping (in a good way)! A small, family run farm where the cows are only eating grass and oats! This led me to inform her that she was absolutely under-selling her product and that she needed to get me to this farm ASAP, because if that was really true there is no way her dairy should be marked as just ‘kefir’ on the shelf. We need to know about this farm and I want to get there and check it out, because a farm like that is gold-dust.
Then there was a sweet man who came in all excited with his 2 new coconut nut butter spreads that are so delicious, I wanted to weep – but the packaging is all wrong. You can’t say ‘home-made’ on a product without inviting all sorts of trouble so that will come off, but as we work with him we can ensure that small artisans do themselves and this revolution space, justice by just getting things right from the start. We all deserve that because we all deserve an alternative real food offering to the conventional one that dominates and harms.
You will also notice that CERA will be making any product with health claims on their labels, change. It is illegal in terms of the Consumer Protection Act to make any kind of health claims on packaging. There is very good reason for this: even though health benefits on many of the products I’ve seen are often true, there are just as many that aren’t.
For example, a new sprouts product came in yesterday, the farmer had put information on the packs to tell you about the different properties of the sprouts. That unfortunately stands as a ‘health claim’ and it has to come off.
Another recent labelling incident occurred with a Kombucha agent selling a product with a terribly illegal label in terms of our labelling law. When she had this pointed out to her, she replied ‘never mind, we’ve got it in another store and we are only the distributors – we do not need to know how it is made nor are we responsible for the labels.' Actually, it is an illegal offense for anybody in the chain to sell mislabelled products not in line with the Consumer Protection Act.
Also, if you are going to sell me on a product that has live bacteria in it that has resulted in deaths when not brewed properly, you better not tell me that you know nothing about where it comes from and that you don’t have to because you only distribute it. I cannot begin to tell you how dangerous this is and yet this Kombucha is everywhere.
If you are seeing a product everywhere else but not here, the reason for it is CERA. That’s where I take my anger and transmute it into the equal and opposite of this green-washing – we will create something powerful enough to ensure that this nonsense in the food place doesn’t happen. The SA Food Revolution needs an army of educated customers to drive it and shape it and that’s why CERA will be making every effort to get you information that allows you to shop more discerningly.
All that said – just keep it simple – eat Real Food from Real Farmers who farm sustainably and all will be well. Onwards and Upwards with The Jozi Real Food Revolution - standing for your right to access food from South Africa’s most sustainable farmers.