THE Bureau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ) has warned that all health claims being made by local manufacturers who are marketing food or drinks must be substantiated by the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) and/or any other designated regulatory body.
If businesses fail to obtain approval from the health ministry, or another such regulatory body, they may find themselves on the receiving end of a legal scolding, the BSJ has insisted.
“It will be safe to say that if you are going to make health claims, the item that you are purporting to have particular abilities would need to be checked by a regulator. If any manufacturer goes ahead and says this without approval, then the person is setting up themselves for legal action, or for being in breach of labelling guidelines,” Ellis James Laing, public education and information coordinator at the BSJ told the Jamaica Observer at a recent virtual awareness session for manufacturers.
“This information would have to be verified, tested, whether by the Ministry of Health or some other designated body, to ensure that the claim can be made,” added Laing.
In an example, Laing pointed out that if a company markets a drink and claims that it reduces cancer cells without approval, it is considered an erroneous and misleading claim that could likely land the business owner in trouble.
“If there has not been any testing of this matter over time, then I am making a claim that persons would have to substantiate. So, they [manufacturers] would run the risk of being in breach of regulations and may face serious challenges,” said Laing.
He noted that in this advent of dieting and weight loss, many individuals are purchasing supplements or foods in hopes of improving their health and fitness. However, not all of these products live up to the advertised claims that they can help people to lose weight, and some may cause adverse health effects.
But, the Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association (JMEA) is concerned that there is little to no enforcement of this requirement.
Responding to the BSJ's warning, Richard Pandohie, president of the JMEA, told the Observer that many manufactures skirt around requirements because of a lack of enforcement.
“Like everything else in Jamaica, we don't have enforcement. And that's the problem. So, the bureau can say all they want and that's the right thing, but we need enforcement. Otherwise, people will continue to do what they want to do and there are no consequences to it. The only people that they seem to regulate are the very same few people,” said Pandohie.
He reasoned that a lack of resources also weakens an effort to enforce.
“That's the biggest issue we're having. We're saying to them get the resources, enforce and make sure the people who are not complying are punished, and then other people will fall in line. If you have a rule and you are just stating the rule over and over with no consequence for non-compliance, then everybody is going to do their own thing. Who is going to stop them?” Pandohie lamented.
He said the disregard by a plethora of unruly manufacturers has been stark.
“I have seen for myself. As you go out, you see people making pronouncements of health benefits and those things without any validation thereof. That's something I've been seeing more and more in the trade and I think it's wrong. You don't even have to get a report. You can see it for yourself. It's everywhere.
“For a long time we have been complaining to the Bureau of Standards that we're also seeing a lot of imported products coming in that are not understandable, or not carrying the required regulatory requirement for the country, but they are still allowed,” argued Pandohie.
But, while highlighting the fact that he cannot confirm whether there have been any such reports made to the BSJ or to the National Compliance and Regulatory Authority (NCRA), Laing reiterated the need for approval before placing an item on the market for sale.
“If inspectors of the NCRA or, possibly, of the Ministry of Health were to find any such product on the shelves, then they would have a responsibility within their jurisdiction to investigate the matter and to seek out the processor or manufacturer and ensure that there is some dialogue and to bring the person to a space of having discussions with the Ministry of Health for that claim,” he related.
In the meantime, Gurvon Spence, team leader for the Packaging, Non-metallic and Furniture Branch at the BSJ, who was also speaking at the event, said that there is a need for justification from manufacturers who use national symbols or nutrition facts for their product labelling.
“Most manufacturers or sellers tend to use the national flag. When this is used, or any national symbol, we ask that you seek permission, which is a letter from the Office of the Prime Minister to say that you have been granted permission to use this symbol on your product,” Spence advised manufactures.
“Where nutrition facts are presented, we ask that a test report is submitted along with your label to justify what your nutrition facts are showing. The recommended format that we use locally is the one used for the United States market, which is the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] format,” he added, noting that these are common issues observed at the BSJ when labels are submitted for approval.
In addition, the BSJ has underscored various labelling requirements for pre-packaged foods and goods (non-food items). The name of the food, list of ingredients, net content and drained weight, name and address statement, and country of origin are among the details that should be conspicuously printed on a label in English.
“The label helps you to advertise your product and it should be true, and all the regulatory requirements should apply,” said Paulette Bailey, technician in the Packaging, Non-Metallic and Furniture Branch of the BSJ.