Uncertified brands of bottled water will continue to flood the market as the authorities responsible for taking them off the shelves are struggling to carry out their mandate due to “inadequate resources” and unclear operating structures.
Report by By Phyllis Mbanje
Food Standards Advisory Board (FSAB) deputy director Freddy Chinyavanhu said his organisation only certified water, but the municipal health and the environmental health departments were supposed to ensure that the uncertified or condemned water was not on the market.
“The way we operate is that the FSAB certifies the water on behalf of the Minister/Secretary for Health. We then advise municipal health authorities like the Harare City Health and the Environmental Health/Port Health Department [within the ministry] of the certified brands,” he said.
“It is the mandate of these two institutions to ensure that only certified brands are on sale, and also that certified brands pass through the border posts.”
Chinyavanhu said the departments of municipal health and environmental health had indicated that they could not always carry out their duties due to limited resources.
“The institutions sometimes tell us that they do not have adequate resources to enforce laid down regulations. The resources include manpower, vehicles and fuel,” he said, adding that it was possible that some uncertified brands were still being sold.
“You can appreciate that it will be difficult to remove 100% of the uncertified water but we try. We would appreciate it if alert citizens bring such issues to our attention.”
However, an FSAB board member who refused to be named said it was actually the duty of the body to ensure that the unsafe products were off the shelves.
“FSAB reports directly to the Secretary for Health, and it is their duty and mandate to take that water off the shelf. They are just trying to play hide and seek and shelving blame on others. That is why this problem will not go away because no one will own up,” said the source.
Meanwhile, Quality Assurance director for the Standards Association of Zimbabwe (SAZ), Sebastian Zuze said his organisation was aimed at maintaining high standards but said as long as getting a SAZ label was on a voluntary basis, it would not be easy.
“We continue to champion world-class standards but getting a SAZ label is still on voluntary basis, and so a company can choose not to get it.”
Early this year Zuze appealed to parliament to craft legislation that would compel companies to get SAZ certification, so as to ensure that only quality products are sold to consumers.
“We operate in a global village and we encourage competitiveness and no longer rely on protectionism,” he said, adding that the business of bottled water was very lucrative.
“Our aim is to protect the consumer by setting standards that address health concerns. When companies approach us we take a sample and run it in our laboratories,” he said, adding that the process was not be a once-off affair as they would periodically check if the standard was being maintained.
‘SAZ, FSAB battling for superiority’
There seems to be growing animosity between FSAB and SAZ in terms of which testing standards are better than the other.
Recently, bottled water trading under the name Aqua Crystal which is registered by the FSAB was condemned by SAZ.
“SAZ are not a regulatory authority and they only do voluntary certification. Only the Ministry of Health through the FSAB has the mandate to carry out compulsory certification of all food products in Zimbabwe,” said Chinyavanhu adding that they only certified products based on analysis reports from government analyst laboratory only.
“We certify products based on analyses/test reports from government analyst laboratory and not any other laboratory,” he said.
Meanwhile, bottled water Leau Choisie, which was once among the brands condemned for having a higher chemical composition, has been certified by FSAB.
“According to my records, the two [Leau Choisie, Aqua Crystal] are certified,” said Chinyavanhu.
Some of the companies that have the SAZ labels are Schweppes, ZLG, Chromopak, Somersby, Springvale, Well Pure, Aqualite (Dairiboard), Mr Juicy, Nilesroom and Kumakomo beverages.