TOPIC stands for Testing of Products Initiated by Consumers and is a brand new concept that is launching in South Africa this October. A consumer-led and funded organisation, TOPIC will test the authenticity of natural and organic products and aims to protect the consumer from false claims and mislabelling.
“Over the last two years, sporadic studies by universities across the country have shown that the mislabelling of consumer products is rife in South Africa,” says TOPIC spokesman and scientist, Peter Becker. “It is estimated that, for some categories of food, more than a half of products on our shelves are mislabelled.”
Many consumers will be aware of the recent meat, gluten, milk, fish and Omega-3 oil supplement scandals that were highlighted in the media and it is clear that “buyer beware” still very much applies.
Unfortunately most retailers do not have the resources or the time to test their products and even the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) does not act as a deterrent from false or misleading claims since, apart from the sporadic testing by universities for academic purposes, there is no systematic testing of products by any government body to protect the consumer. TOPIC has been formed to fill this gap.
Online organic shop, Faithful to Nature, supports the establishment of TOPIC. “I believe that TOPIC is one of the most exciting developments that the natural and organic industry has yet seen,” says founder, Robyn Smith, “and I am passionately adamant that every one of us that cares about the industry needs to support this powerful project.
“We want consumers to trust what is on the label. Product testing will protect both the consumer and natural and organic businesses by raising the ethics in the industry,” adds Smith.
Consumers of organic and natural products pay a premium for quality products manufactured without hidden, harmful chemicals like pesticides, petrochemicals, hormone disruptors and heavy metals. Labels claiming ‘free range’, ‘grass-fed’, ‘pasture-reared’, ‘natural’, ‘organic’, ‘biodegradable’, ‘ethical’, ‘sustainable’ and ‘non-toxic’ are almost completely unregulated.
“For most consumers, there’s a real need for credible information and peace of mind,” says Becker.
TOPIC has selected independent laboratories that can isolate ingredients and conduct additional testing, and will follow-up with factory and farm visits to ensure that all certifications and claims are thoroughly investigated. Results will be published on their website and sent to interested consumers, retailers and the media.
Garden Route Goodies, an ethical farm fresh shop, has also committed to supporting and contributing to TOPIC. “We want our consumers informed about where the products come from,” says owner Alex Peel. “There is very little in the way of regulating “organic” and “free range” farms and an independent testing initiative like TOPIC would be able to confirm claims made by suppliers and producers.”
Consumers can go to TOPIC’s website, donate towards testing and ask for their products to be tested. TOPIC chooses a product from those nominated and starts the process. The number of tests is only limited by the amount of funding available – the more funding, the more tests that can be done.
“Ultimately, TOPIC aims to increase confidence in organic and natural products as testing will enable the consumer to genuinely trust the labels attached to their favourite products,” concludes Becker.