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South African consumers are in for new benefits with the launch of a product testing organization called TOPIC – Testing of Products Initiated by Consumers. This brand new concept is a consumer-led and funded organisation that will test the authenticity of both natural and organic products. It is aimed to protect the consumer from false claims and mislabelling.
“Over the last two years, sporadic studies by universities across the country have shown that the mislabelling of consumer products is rife in South Africa,” says TOPIC spokesman and scientist, Peter Becker. “It is estimated that, for some categories of food, more than a half of products on our shelves are mislabelled.”
TOPIC will have a big impact and fill the gaps because unfortunately most retailers do not have the resources or time to test their products and even the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) does not act as a deterrent from false or misleading claims since, apart from the sporadic testing by universities for academic purposes, there is no systematic testing of products by any government body to protect the consumer.
Consumers of organic and natural products want to pay for quality products that are manufactured without any hidden and harmful chemicals like pesticides, petrochemicals, hormone disruptors and heavy metals. Products that are labelled ‘free-range’, ‘grass-fed’, ‘organic’, ‘biodegradable’, and ‘non-toxic’ to name a few are also almost completely unregulated.
TOPIC has selected independent laboratories that will take on product testing as well as follow-up with factory and farm visits to ensure all claims and certifications are investigated properly. All the results will be published on their website and sent to consumers that are interested, the retailers and the media.
TOPIC has already garnered local support for establishment and contributions like an online organic shop, Faithful to Nature, and an ethical farm fresh shop, Garden Route Goodies.
“I believe that TOPIC is one of the most exciting developments that the natural and organic industry has yet seen,” says founder of Faithful to Nature, Robyn Smith, “and I am passionately adamant that every one of us that cares about the industry needs to support this powerful project.”
“We want our consumers informed about where the products come from,” says Garden Route Goodies owner Alex Peel. “There is very little in the way of regulating “organic” and “free range” farms and an independent testing initiative like TOPIC would be able to confirm claims made by suppliers and producers.”
So if you want a product tested you can visit the TOPIC website – www.topic.org.za – and donate towards testing the product asked for. They will choose from the products nominated and start the processes. Tests are limited by the amount of funding available, so the more funding the more tests can be done.
“Ultimately, TOPIC aims to increase confidence in organic and natural products as testing will enable the consumer to genuinely trust the labels attached to their favourite products,” concludes Becker.