DUBAI //The first federal food safety law, which makes the avoidance and control of food-borne outbreaks a high priority, is set to be adopted this year by the Ministry of Environment and Water.
Food safety officials said the law would be a big step forward as it draws up tougher guidelines for the import of food.
"This is the first of its kind. The law gives major stipulation regarding the do's and don'ts, if you like, regarding food security," said Bashir Hassan Yousif, a food safety expert with Dubai Municipality. "It is a general framework which will later introduce food guidelines and codes."
Mohammed Abdulla Al Fardan, the deputy director of communications for the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority, said: "Such an initiative will support and balance protecting the customer health and flow of trade, along with promoting transparency measures for decision-making processes on the federal level."
The new law would detail measures to ensure public health in areas including licensing and registration, imports, food premises management and alerts on emergencies and outbreaks.
Although a food safety law was previously passed for the capital, none yet exists that is shared among all emirates. Dubai, in a new report, is also moving towards tighter controls at the point of food production.
The Ministry of Environment and Water is the country's highest authority on food safety, and was aided in drafting the law by the national committee for food safety, which includes municipal agencies such as the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority, which was established in 2005.
"All emirates participated and it is awaiting final signature," Mr Yousif said. "It is a big step. The process will become more harmonised"
Dr Rashid Ahmed bin Fahad, the Minister of Environment and Water, said in March that officials needed to ensure the law was fully in line with international standards.
"The food law is in process," Dr Fahad said at the time. "It took some time because we had to review local orders and measures. We are not simply introducing a law for the UAE, but one that is compatible and in harmony with international laws."
Under the new law, tougher contingency plans would be in place to deal with incidents such as the e-coli outbreak linked to infected bean sprouts that has killed some 50 people in Europe since May.
According to the World Health Organisation, 16 countries in Europe and North America have reported 4,137 cases. The organisation also noted that the Robert Koch Institute, Germany's central federal institution for disease control and prevention, has issued a warning for people in that country not to eat raw sprouts of any kind.
Khalid Mohammed Shareef, the director of food control at Dubai Municipality, has said a ban issued by the Ministry of Environment and Water on some European products has now been lifted. However, those products must have a complete health certificate before being allowed into the UAE.
* With additional reporting by Caline Malek