OP ED: Help protect your fellow South Africans against predatory food practices

The National Department of Health has released front-of-pack warning label regulations for public comment. South Africans need to participate in the process to ensure that we are all protected from profit-driven corporate activities promoting harmful goods and unhealthy food.

Growing up in the Eastern Cape, I remember eating foods prepared from start to finish in our home kitchen. Boarding school introduced me to packaged foods. And university introduced me to fast food. 

But I would never have imagined that this change was seeping into the food environment, with ultra-processed foods becoming the norm.

It is no wonder that the explosion in obesity rates and the rise in noncommunicable diseases in the Global South coincided with the proliferation of fast, convenient food.

Research shows that two in five women and one in nine men in South Africa are obese. Children don’t fare any better. The South African National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that South African children between the ages of 6-14 years have a combined overweight and obesity prevalence of 13.5%.

The idea is that we are being sold convenience and affordability. Little is said about the negatives: the rising rates of diabetes, heart disease and cancers.

To make them cheaper and more profitable, many of the ultra-processed foods we eat are loaded with additives such as sugars, salts and trans fats which wreak havoc on our bodies and put us at risk of preventable premature death, while we are armed with little more than impossible to understand back-of-pack nutrition labels.

To curb the ballooning burden of noncommunicable diseases, the World Health Organization recommends the implementation of evidence-based government-ledstrategies and policies to improve the food system and diet in the population.

One of these strategies is the use of stronger food regulations such as front-of-pack warning labels that are visible and consumers can understand at a glance. A deluge of research has found that large warning labels with a contrasted background for better noticeability, and the use of “excess” instead of “high in”, improve understanding of the nutritional content found in certain foods, leading to a change in people’s food-making choices for the better.

Fresh regulations

The National Department of Health has released front-of-pack warning label (FOPWL) regulations for public comment. South Africans need to participate in the process to ensure that we are all protected from profit-driven corporate activities promoting harmful goods and unhealthy food.

The newly published FOPWL and marketing draft regulation, R3337, will make it easier for all South African consumers to have clear information about the food we consume, empowering us to make better food choices. The regulations will also make it harder for major food organisations to market to children, who are vulnerable to the food industry’s predatory marketing practices.

Of course, the food industry could take a page out of big sugar’s playbook to block or water down the regulations, citing the cost to the economy caused by the implementation of front-of-pack warning labels and other effective public health policies. At the end of last year, the sugar industry used this tactic to bolster its calls for the scrapping of the Health Promotion Levy, a government policy aimed at reducing the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, which have been shown to have a negative effect on consumers’ health.

The tactic, used against a population suffering from hunger and poverty, is a low blow. The reality is that people should not have to choose between filling their stomachs in the short term and irreparably damaging their health in the long term.

We know that unless the food and beverage industry is forced to change, it is unlikely to. Experts from Priceless SA at the University of Witwatersrand School of Public Health found there is no evidence that voluntary actions by the food and beverage industry can safeguard public health. In fact, voluntary actions can delay the implementation of lifesaving interventions. Mandatory regulatory interventions are easier to monitor than self-regulation.

Contrary to the food and beverage industry’s claims about the cost to the economy, the costs of diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and some cancers are impossible to ignore. Disease itself has a cost, and for many South Africans, the cost of paying for healthcare and the inability to work due to illness takes food out of their mouths.

Researchers at Wits University crunched the numbers and found that “overweight and obesity are costing South Africa’s health system R33-billion a year”.

It is condescending to assume that poor people do not care about the quality of the food they eat. Researchers found that parents were more than keen to choose better food for their families, particularly if there was a sick person at home. What they needed was easy-to-understand information on which to base those choices, as outlined earlier.

It is true that warning labels alone won’t fix the entire problem of a profit-driven food environment, but it is a step in the right direction. Failure to act will result in more deaths and increased suffering.

We need your voice to ensure that the new front-of-pack warning label regulations are passed. Use this link to ask the National Department of Health to listen to YOU and pass the regulations. DM

Zukiswa Zimela is the communications manager at the Healthy Living Alliance (HEALA).This opinion piece was published in the Daily Maverick on the 16th of May 2023

WE ARE HIRING: Finance and Admin Intern

Position:  Finance and Admin Intern

Location:  Rosebank, Johannesburg

Contract duration:  9 months

Closing date:  24th May 2023


About us:

Healthy Living Alliance (HEALA) is a coalition of civil society organisations advocating for equitable access to affordable, nutritious food in South Africa by building a more just food system.  HEALA’s vision is a South Africa in which all people have equitable access to healthy food to unlock their full potential.

The Role:

An exciting opportunity exists for a Finance and Admin Intern who will assist in managing the financial and administrative duties of HEALA. This role includes managing monthly reconciliations, daily administrative duties and supporting programme team.

Who we’re looking for: 

The ideal candidate should be educated with a Diploma in Accounting; or have a BCom Accounting degree. They should  have the ability to apply their knowledge of financial management; proficient knowledge of Generally Accepted Accounting Principles and Internal Control Fundamentals; have knowledge of Microsoft Word and Excel, a thorough knowledge of external regulations as well as internal corporate policies and procedures; excellent oral and written communication skills as well as excellent quantitative and analytical skills; strong critical thinking and problem solving skills, the Ability to analyse and interpret financial data, identify/resolve errors and prepare reports and the ability to motivate and work well with others.

In addition to this the candidate should have the ability to analyse financial transactions, to review and determines compliance with laws and regulations and make recommendations for approval; review and analyse recommendations be strong on attention to detail.

The candidate should also have strong commitment to HEALA values and ethos.

The duties and responsibilities for the role are as below:

  • Prepare payment requests together with supporting documents;
  • Load payments on the online banking;
  • Process cashbook and bank reconciliations;
  • Closely work with the Finance Manager together with Programme Manager in order to manage cash flow effectively;
  • Maintain tracking tool for expenses;
  • Ensure all statutory payments are paid on time;
  • Credit Card Reconciliations;
  • Responsible for bringing any official and legal correspondence to the attention of the Senior Management Team and assist with adequate responses;
  • Engage travel agent with regard to travelling arrangements;
  • Maintain the asset register

What we offer:

HEALA is committed to providing a welcoming, supportive workplace where we recognise a job well done, encourage close collaboration and sharing power.

How to apply:

Suitably qualified candidates are required to email their updated CV’s and cover letter clearly explaining their suitability against the essential criteria in the job profile to info@HEALA.org   by 11.59 GMT on 25th May 2023 . 

Please check your application and make sure you meet all the essential criteria listed in the person specification. In addition, your application will be stronger if you meet at least some of the desirable criteria.

Due to high volumes of applications received, we can only correspond with short listed applicants. Should you not have received feedback on your application within three weeks of the closing date, please consider your application as unsuccessful.

HEALA will not consider unsolicited candidates from recruitment agencies. We reserve the right to modify or withdraw any of our vacancies at any time.


HEALA is an equal opportunities employer. HEALA promotes affirmative action in policies and practices for the hiring, training, retention and promotion of all staff. HEALA will monitor its staff complement against the national Employment Equity statistics. All applicants must be in possession of the appropriate and valid rights to work in South Africa.


HEALA collects and processes personal data relating to job applicants as part of their recruitment process.