ABU DHABI // Imported food for sale in supermarkets will be screened for irradiation so that compulsory labelling can be enforced.
Irradiated food must be labelled as such by law but until now neither consumers nor food-safety authorities have been able to check.
That will change next month when a new laboratory at Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority begins screening.
"It's the right of the consumer to know if his food is irradiated or not," said Dr Mabrouk Allagi, head of the authority's radiation unit. "That's why the regulations say that if food is irradiated, it has to be labelled."
Irradiation exposes food to X-rays, high-energy electrons and gamma rays to kill micro-organisms. It can dramatically extend shelf life and limits the growth of harmful bacteria, fungi and insects, but many manufacturers resist labelling because of consumer resistance to irradiation.
"Sometimes, other countries will not put any labels on the food because of this," said Dr Allagi. "Traders look for benefits and they irradiate food to keep it fresh, but they don't mention it."
Some countries already require labelling. In the US, irradiated food must must bear a label with the words "Treated with Radiation" or "Treated by Irradiation", and a logo.
Because almost 90 per cent of the UAE's food is imported, and from many different countries, enforcement of the regulations has been difficult.
"In some countries, up to 15 per cent of imported irradiated food is not not labelled," said Dr Allagi. "Most of them are commodities such as shrimps and fruits.
"We hear in China and Vietnam, they're building more generators, which indicates that more commodities will be irradiated. We expect an increase in irradiated food on the global market and subsequently in the UAE."
Until now there has been no practical way to check the UAE's food. The new lab will change that.
"Next month, we will begin routine screening for irradiated food," said.
At first the new screening lab will concentrate on spices, herbs, seasonings and noodles. Mohamed Al Reyaysa, the authority's communications director, hopes by September it will expand to prawns and oysters.