Report No. 29
Basic Principles For Pure Food Laws
The two main objectives of food legislation are
(i) to check adulteration; and
(ii) to prevent frauds.
In the minds of the public, "pure food" means food that is wholesome and free from anything that is in any way harmful to health and free from the addition or substraction of anything which might impair wholesomeness, and present to the public in a forthright and factual manner1. The consumer has to be safeguarded against dangers to his health as well as against commercial frauds.
Foods are by their very nature products of many different varieties, composition and degrees of purity, and are subject, with respect to production, transportation and distribution, to many different nutritional, hygienic and labelling requirements. Therefore the basic law can only lay down broad general principles, while regulations must contain detailed provisions governing different categories of products2.
In modern times, the minimum standards below which food should not be sold have also been emphasised, as these grade standards are important in featuring the produce of a country and thus gaining a reputation for it.
Thus pure food laws deal with (i) health, (ii) frauds, (iii) marketing.
At the Regional Seminar on Food Legislation3, the important requirements for facilitating enforcement were thus described:-
"(a) definitions of such key words as food, label, advertisement, adulteration, sale, package, misbranding, warranty and unsanitary conditions, etc., rather than rely on the common or dictionary meaning of such words;
(b) procedures for sampling and analyses;
(c) powers of inspection and the procedures to be followed;
(e) warranties and guarantees;
(f) prohibition of the importation of articles not complying with the law.".
The Seminar recommended4 that each country should have same law on the basis of basic principles given in its Report, that maximum and minimum penalties be prescribed depending on the nature and gravity of the offence; that detailed standards for new, traditional and processed foods may be prescribed; and that each Government should set up a Statutory Co-ordinating Committee on Food Control, consisting of representatives of the various Government Departments responsible for the many aspects of food legislation (Agriculture, Industry, Trade, Health etc.) and of trade and manufacturing interests. The Seminar also stressed the need for immediate steps in establishing appropriate training programmes for the field staff, laboratory technicians and other personnel.
As regards enforcement, its recommendations may be quoted in detail5:-
"6. Governments should pay attention to the enforcement of food legislation in places where food is produced or manufactured in order to ensure at the source that food is not exposed to health hazards or subjected to adulteration or fraud.
7. Governments should take steps at an early date to set up or strengthen their marketing organizations, taking the necessary legislative action so as to be able to progressively grade and quality-mark according to well-defined standards, all important food articles produced or manufactured in the country for sale or distribution, and thus facilitate the enforcement of food laws and make them effective.
8. In view of the important role of the consumers and consumers' association in the enforcement of food legislation, Governments provide for the education of consumers and of those involved in the handling of foods, and assist consumers' associations in becoming acquainted with the food legislation and control measures.
9. Governments keep the Legislation Research Branch, F.A.O. Headquarters, Rome, Italy, regularly informed on any new food legislation enacted or rules framed thereunder or any amendments to existing laws or regulations and supply, when possible, English or French translations of the texts. This would enable the F.A.O. to act as the Central body for the exchange of information on food legislation between the countries in the Region with the aid of promoting further improvement and harmonisation of their food legislation."
The variety and complexity of food legislation justify these observations:-
"Sound food legislation must depend upon knowledge in several different fields.".
Of these fields, three are of outstanding importance-the agricultural and veterinary sciences concerned with raw materials, the chemical sciences concerned with preparatory measures, and the biological sciences concerned with the effects of food.6
It should be realised, that "the price of pure food is eternal vigilance on the part of the Food Chemists in industry and the Public Analyst".7
1. FAO Regional Seminar on Food etc. Report, (1962), p. 7.
3. FAO Regional Seminar on Food etc. Report, (1962), p. 8.
4. FAO Regional Seminar on Food, etc, Report, (1962), p. 17.
5. FAO Regional Seminar on Food etc., Report, (1962), p. 18, paras. 6-9.
6. A.C. Frazer in Pure Food and Pure Food Laws (Edited by Amos), pp. 153, 155.
7. J.H. Hamence in Pure Food and Pure Food Laws (Edited by Amos), pp. 5, 20.