The European Union's proposed lifting of a ban on feeding animal by-products, including pork, to livestock such as chickens would cause concern in the UAE, says the nation's food regulator. With a global food crisis and soaring grain prices, the financial strain on farmers has forced researchers to look at alternatives to the ban on animal feed. Scientists with the European Food Safety Authority recently suggested it would now be safe to lift the ban imposed by the EU in 1996, after bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) devastated the farming industry.
More commonly known as mad cow disease, the outbreak was blamed on the practice of farmers feeding infected cattle to other cows. Islamic laws forbid the consumption of pork, and Abdulla Abu Rwaidah, the health consultant for the General Secretariat of Municipalities (GSM), said there would be a debate if the 12-year ban was repealed. Concern would be raised among Muslim populations in European countries, he said, and "the United Arab Emirates will surely have a stand on it".
The GSM sends representatives to every country that exports food products to the UAE, said Mr Rwaidah, to "secure halal meat and poultry products for our people". The idea of feeding meat and bone meal to other animals had long been controversial, he said. "You have to study the impact of this," he said. "There is also a Muslim community in the European Union that might have something to say about this."
Just five years ago, an investigation by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in the UK found poultry products contained traces of non-chicken DNA, including pork and beef, though some of the processed poultry was labelled as halal, meat that is permissible under Islamic law. At the time, David Statham, the director of enforcement at the FSA, said: "Consumers are not always getting what they pay for. What is even more unacceptable is the total disregard as to how offensive this is to Muslim communities who may be eating food that is forbidden by their beliefs."
A European Commission-funded Safe Feed Study is examining whether it is possible to detect what kind of meat and bone meal is used in feed to prevent cannibalism - one way of transmitting BSE. "We need to find a reliable way to make sure the meat and bone meal fed to an animal is really just pig, fish or whatever," said Antonie Kerwien, the EC's spokesman for health in the agriculture and rural development section.
Ms Kerwien added that lifting the ban on feeding animal by-products to livestock was not an immediate option, as the findings from the Safe Feed Study were not due until the end of 2009. Poultry and meat comes to the UAE from farms in India, Brazil and European countries such as France, according to the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority (ADFCA). Nanda Kumar, a spokesman for Lulu supermarkets, said all poultry products imported from France, Norway and Denmark were subject to government approval. "We do not sell anything that is not halal," he said.
Mohamed al Reyaysa, the spokesman for the ADFCA, said the issue of feeding animal remains to livestock was "sensitive", but insisted that food safety committees ensured all meat used here was halal. "It is to the respect of our culture and religion," he said. "We are taking care so that when anything comes to the UAE, we check it." Mr Reyaysa said figures for the number of chickens imported from Europe were not available.