Regulator Clears Astral Foods

SOUTH AFRICA - Short-weight products had been taken off shelves, the regulator concedes.
calendar icon 13 April 2011
clock icon 4 minute read

Less than a week after South African Breweries won its case against the Competition Commission, another regulator has been taken to task, this time over statements it made regarding Astral Foods selling less chicken than claimed on its packaging, according to Business Day of South Africa.

The National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications sent a formal apology to Astral Foods yesterday for "any inconvenience, embarrassment or damage that its media statement of April 4 2011 may have caused".

In that media statement, Astral's County Fair brand was accused of repeated violations of the Legal Metrology Act.

The regulator said at the time its efforts to get the company to correct and/or withdraw its non- complying products from the market had failed.

In a new statement, the regulator said that Astral had withdrawn all the products and had complied with its recommendations, although it would still be pursuing legal action.

"We submitted the court documents in January. We can't stop the process, it is in the hands of the state prosecutor. The courts will also determine the penalty – if a fine should be imposed or not," said Jaco Marneweck, a technical specialist at the regulator's legal metrology department.

"The media release was written before the last visit to their facility when they had corrected the problem. They had made an effort to become compliant," Mr Marneweck said.

Astral CEO, Chris Schutte, said there were too many government departments and watchdogs who "don't sing from the same hymn sheet". Astral would not be taking further legal action against the regulator, he said.

"A retraction was necessary because some of the information in the release was factually incorrect," Mr Schutte said.

He said Astral was in discussions with the regulator over measurement and weighting and that both parties had not yet agreed on the correct methodology of measuring products. "There is some controversy over the iced-glazing process. We have ceased all ice- glazing processes and withdrawn the product."

Iced glazing is a thin layer sprayed over the bird to protect it from freezer burn.

"We would like to continue with that process but we need to come up with a standard method. We don't think there will be any legal implications for us.

"Our lawyers are negotiating with the state prosecutors about the previous two violations which were just differences in measurement methodology.

"There is a docket but we certainly haven't been found guilty of anything. In the meantime we have accepted their methodology but want to emphasise the need for the South African Bureau of Standards and the South African Poultry Association to have similar standards and methods."

The regulator first visited Astral's Country Fair plant in July 2009. The next visit was last December, it said. Both times the regulator found noncompliant products. A visit in February showed that Astral had made the necessary changes. It said the reason it was still taking legal action was the products may still be on the market.

The Competition Commission yesterday announced its plans to take a number of rulings by the Competition Tribunal on appeal, and said it would explore the possibility of taking these cases to the Constitutional Court for a ruling on a point of law, concluded the Business Day report.

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