Food Legislation in Asia and the Consumer
Statement by Anwar Fazal, Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, International Organization of Consumers Unions IOCU at the Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Regional Conference For Asia, Bangkok, 8-15 December 1975.
- IOCU is encouraged by the progress reports on food legislation presented by the various delegates and FAO.
- There is a clear trend towards increased consumer involvement both through representation and consultation and through increased consumer awareness. We look forward to remedial action by countries that do not yet have adequate consumer consultative machinery.
- IOCU notes the increasing acceptance of the fact that consumer education on food matters must go hand in hand with legislation and enforcement. There is therefore a need to initiate and strengthen consumer education programmes in schools and in the community through formal and informal means. Alert and informed consumers can make a valuable contribution to enforcement agencies and provide the support for adequate standards.
- The general lack of enforcement has come out obviously. The Singapore experience indicates that it is possible to have a high enforcement rate and its example should stimulate others.
- There appear to be far too low penalties imposed and the mechanisms for publicising products which are the subject of an offence are weak or non-existent; mandatory naming of such products/firms should be required so that consumers can be adequately informed through the media.
- Because the development of an infrastructure for enforcement is expensive (and consumer organisations are also keen to see a cost-effective operation) there must be greater attention paid to two critical points – the place of manufacture and, in the case of imports, through control at the point of entry. Prevention at source is better and less expensive than dealing with the problem once it has spread to retail outlets.
- While one cannot but sympathise with the need for exceptions in emergencies, under no circumstances should that be an argument to support a general dilution of standards and safety requirements. Exceptional circumstances should be dealt with exceptionally and a reasonable agency should take a deliberate decision for which it should be answerable.
- The experiences of consumer protection activities in the USA are most valuable to us. There are, of course, other alternatives that could be mentioned but the conference should beaware of some other legislation in the USA that has relevance but has not been previously mentioned:
i. Placing the onus of proof of claims on the manufacturer or seller.
ii. Imposing corrective advertising in addition to other penalties.
iii. Providing adequate compensation to all affected consumers.
- It has been stated that the US experience has been that the major consideration for the consumer is price. While this may be so in a situation where the consumer has a sense of security provided by the regulatory activities of active consumer protection agencies, in the case of Asia we cannot and must not draw from that fact that safety aspects may be discarded or down graded.