Labeling and Fair Packaging under the Consumer Act

Prohibited acts on labeling and packaging

It is unlawful for any person, either as principal or agent, engaged in the labeling or packaging of any consumer product, to display or distribute, or to cause to be displayed or distributed in commerce, any consumer product whose package or label does not conform to the provisions of the law.[1]

Islamic Da’wah Council of the Philippines, Inc. v.
Office of the Executive Secretary

G.R. No. 153888, 09 July 2003 (En Banc)

Petitioner Islamic Da’wah Council of the Philippines, Inc. initiated a petition for prohibition seeking the declaration of nullity of Executive Order No. 46, series of 2001 and the prohibition of its implementation by Respondent Office of the Executive Secretary. The said executive order created the Philippine Halal Certification Scheme and designated the Office of Muslim Affairs (OMA) to oversee its implementation. As a result, Petitioner who had its own halal certification lost revenues as food manufacturers stopped obtaining certifications from it.

HELD: Petition granted. “Without doubt, classifying a food product as halal is a religious function because the standards used are drawn from the Qur’an and Islamic beliefs. By giving OMA the exclusive power to classify food products as halal, EO 46 encroached on the religious freedom of Muslim organizations like herein petitioner to interpret for Filipino Muslims what food products are fit for Muslim consumption.  Also, by arrogating to itself the task of issuing halal certifications, the State has in effect forced Muslims to accept its own interpretation of the Qur’an and Sunnah on halal food.”

Here, there is “no compelling justification for the government to deprive Muslim organizations, like herein [Petitioner], of their religious right to classify a product as halal, even on the premise that the health of Muslim Filipinos can be effectively protected by assigning to OMA the exclusive power to issue halal certifications.  The protection and promotion of the Muslim Filipinos’ right to health are already provided for in existing laws and ministered to by government agencies charged with ensuring that food products released in the market are fit for human consumption, properly labeled and safe.”

Section 48(4) of the Administrative Code of 1987 authorizes the National Meat Inspection Commission (NMIC) of the Department of Agriculture (DOA) “the power to inspect slaughtered animals intended for human consumption to ensure the safety of the meat released in the market.” Meanwhile, R.A. 7394 (The Consumer Act of 1992) gives to certain government departments “the duty to protect the interests of the consumer, promote his general welfare and to establish standards of conduct for business and industry.” Hence, “a food product, before its distribution to the market, is required to secure the Philippine Standard Certification Mark after the concerned department inspects and certifies its compliance with quality and safety standards.” The other regulatory bodies include the Bureau of Food and Drugs of the Department of Health and the Department of Trade and Industry.

“With these regulatory bodies given detailed functions on how to screen and check the quality and safety of food products, the perceived danger against the health of Muslim and non-Muslim Filipinos alike is totally avoided. Of great help are the provisions on labeling of food products (Articles 74 to 85) of RA 7394. In fact, through these labeling provisions, the State ably informs the consuming public of the contents of food products released in the market. Stiff sanctions are imposed on violators of said labeling requirements.”

Consequently, via these laws on food safety and quality, “the State indirectly aids Muslim consumers in differentiating food from non-food products.  The NMIC guarantees that the meat sold in the market has been thoroughly inspected and fit for consumption.  Meanwhile, BFD ensures that food products are properly categorized and have passed safety and quality standards.  Then, through the labeling provisions enforced by the DTI, Muslim consumers are adequately apprised of the products that contain substances or ingredients that, according to their Islamic beliefs, are not fit for human intake.  These are the non-secular steps put in place by the State to ensure that the Muslim consumers’ right to health is protected.  The halal certifications issued by petitioner and similar organizations come forward as the official religious approval of a food product fit for Muslim consumption.”

In-applicability to businesses engaged in wholesale or retail distributors

The prohibited acts on labeling and packaging do not apply to persons engaged in the business of wholesale or retail distributors of consumer products except to the extent that such persons: (a) are engaged in the packaging or labeling of such products; (b) prescribe or specify by any means the manner in which such products are packaged or labeled; or (c) having knowledge, refuse to disclose the source of the mislabeled or mispackaged products.[2]

Minimum labeling requirements for consumer products

All consumer products domestically sold whether manufactured locally or imported are to indicate the following in their respective labels of packaging: (a) its correct and registered trade name or brand name; (b) its duly registered trademark; (c) its duly registered business name; (d) the address of the manufacturer, importer, repacker of the consumer product in the Philippines; (e) its general make or active ingredients; (f) the net quality of contents, in terms of weight, measure or numerical count rounded off to at least the nearest tenths in the metric system; (g) country of manufacture, if imported; and (h) if a consumer product is manufactured, refilled or repacked under license from a principal, the label is to state such fact. [3]

Additional labeling

The following may be required by the concerned department in accordance with their rules and regulations: (a) whether it is flammable or inflammable; (b) directions for use, if necessary; (c) warning of toxicity; (d) wattage, voltage or amperes; or (e) process of manufacture used if necessary.[4]

Best Legal Practices

Additional labeling should be factual or supported by research study – Businesses are allowed to add labels to their consumer products after complying with the minimum labeling requirements. In so doing, the additional labels should be factual or supported by research study. They should not be misleading or fraudulent.

Conspicuousness of label

Any word, statement or other information required by or under authority of the preceding paragraphs are to appear on the label or labeling with such conspicuousness as compared with other words, statements, designs or devices therein, and in such terms as to render it likely to be read and understood by the ordinary individual under customary conditions of purchase or use.[5] These labeling requirements are to form an integral part of the label without danger of being erased or detached under ordinary handling of the product.[6]

Philippine Product Standard Mark

The label may contain the Philippine Product Standard Mark if it is certified to have passed the consumer product standard prescribed by the concerned department.[7]

Nonfunctional slack-fill of packages

A package is deemed to be non-functionally slack-filled if it is filled to substantially less than its capacity for reasons other than: (a) protection of the contents of such package; (b) the requirements of machines used for enclosing the contents in such package; or (c) inherent characteristics of package materials or construction being used.[8]

Price tags

It is unlawful to offer any consumer product for retail sale to the public without an appropriate price tag, label or marking publicly displayed to indicate the price of each article. [9] These products cannot be sold at a price higher than that stated therein and without discrimination to all buyers.[10] If consumer products for sale are too small or the nature of which makes it impractical to place a price tag thereon a price list is required to be placed at the nearest point where the products are displayed indicating the retail price of the same.[11]

Manner of placing price tags

Price tags, labels or markings must be written clearly, indicating the price of the consumer product per unit in pesos and centavos.[12]

Visibility of price tags

The concerned departments are to prescribe rules and regulations for the visible placement of price tags for specific consumer products and services.[13]

No erasures or alterations on price tags

No erasures or alterations of any sort on price tags, labels, or markings are allowed.[14]

Best Legal Practices

Provide price tags for products sold online – Due to the rise of e-commerce, businesses opened online merchant stores. As the requirement for price tags cover online sales transaction, the products being sold online should likewise have a price tag which should be visible.

Additional labeling requirements for food

The following additional labeling requirements are to be imposed by the concerned department for food or products:[15]

  1. Expiry or expiration date, where applicable;[16]
  2. Whether the consumer product is semi-processed, fully processed, ready-to-cook, ready-to-eat, prepared food or just plain mixture;[17]
  3. Nutritive value, if any;[18]
  4. Whether the ingredients used are natural or synthetic, as the case may be;[19]
  5. Such other labeling requirements as the concerned department may deem necessary and reasonable.[20]

Trends

Genetically modified organisms (GMO) labeling – In some states in the U.S., there have been laws passed requiring consumer products to place a label on whether or not their ingredients contain Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO). This law is controversial and some businesses have challenged its validity. In the Philippines, there is no such similar law. However, through number 4 above, it is submitted that the DTI may require such rule on food labeling.

 

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[1] Ibid. Paragraph 1, Article 76. The DTI is to enforce the provisions on labeling and fair packaging and its implementing rules and regulations: Provided, That with respect to food, drugs, cosmetics, devices and hazardous substances, it is to be enforced by the concerned department (Article 75, Ibid.).

[2] Ibid. Paragraph 2, Article 76.

[3] Ibid. Paragraph 1, Article 77.

[4] Ibid. Paragraph 2, Article 77.

[5] Ibid. Paragraph 3, Article 77.

[6] Ibid. Paragraph 4, Article 77.

[7] Ibid. Article 78.

[8] Ibid. Paragraph 2, Article 79.

[9] Ibid. Paragraph 2, Article 81.

[10] Ibid.  Lumber sold, displayed or offered for sale to the public are to be tagged or labeled by indicating thereon the price and the corresponding official name of the word (Ibid.).

[11] Ibid.

[12] R.A. 7394. Paragraph 2, Article 82.

[13] Ibid. Paragraph 2, Article 83.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid. Article 84.

[16] Ibid. Article 84 (a).

[17] Ibid. Article 84 (b).

[18] Ibid. Article 84 (c).

[19] Ibid. Article 84 (d).

[20] Ibid. Article 84 (e).