ABU DHABI // There are no plans to launch a federal food-control authority, the Minister of Environment and Water said yesterday.
Dr Rashid Ahmed bin Fahad told a session of the Federal National Council that several bodies - including Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority and municipalities - already monitored food, so there was no need for a national watchdog.
He said most food - 86 per cent- was imported and that, too, was carefully monitored. Only 3 per cent of imported food is stopped at the country's ports.
But Ahmed Al Shamsi (Ajman) said even the laboratories where food samples were tested were in a poor state when he visited.
"We notice these days a lot of illnesses," he said. "There are no specifications for food. This is something related to the country's economy."
A federal authority would not only ensure laws were observed, but would be a fully fledged regulator.
"It would work in all emirates, to oversee food from the farm to the consumer," he said, stating many other countries had similar bodies.
Mr Al Shamsi claimed the situation was dire and that a federal authority was urgently needed. But the minister insisted things were "not that bad".
"Right now there is no direction to establish this authority," he said. He admitted he was aware of poor laboratory facilities, but repeated that most food was imported and monitored.
"You cannot paint such a bad picture," he said. "There are problems, like soil pollution, but we are taking the necessary steps. We cannot say it is bad, it is not."
The success of last week's Gulfood exhibition in Dubai, which had more than 4,000 international exhibitors, was a sign of the trust placed in the country's food control, the minister argued.
Mr Al Shamsi replied that the exhibitors were more interested in accessing the local market than in the country's food-safety measures.
"If it is not bad, it is not good either," he said, adding that there was no control over the amount of pesticides used on crops.
Dr Amal Al Qubaisi (Abu Dhabi) agreed the situation was worrying.
"Any day we go to any Co-op, we hesitate 100 times before buying anything," she said. All Emiratis want to be sure their food was suitable "for our children", she added.
Dr Al Qubaisi said one Emirati farmer had told her it would be best not to eat his produce.
"There are bad practices," she said. "We hear about the high cancer rate every day and we wonder why. It's because chemicals are being used with no supervision."
Many farm workers and owners are not trained to use pesticides, she said.
"Why don't we have a requirement for farmers?" she asked. "The ministry can hold workshops to show them how these are used."
The minister agreed with Dr Al Qubaisi's concerns.
"Any person would have these doubts," he said. "This is normal thinking anyone would have.
"We have legislations. We cannot enter farms to inspect them, we monitor shops that sell food. We find a lot of violations, many of which we referred to the court."
The minister agreed there should be control, and that workers should be better educated. "In the end the situation is not bad," he said.
Most members agreed the Cabinet should be asked to set up a federal authority. Once a recommendation is drafted, it will be passed.