Dubai Municipality officials say that at present each emirate follows its own standards, which can create confusion when food travels across local boundaries.
Food safety law will match international rules
DUBAI // A new federal law that would unify food standards across the Emirates and thereby enhance food security is expected to pass by this summer, it was announced yesterday.
Although he would not release details, Dr Rashid Ahmed bin Fahad, the UAE Minister of Environment and Water, said all measures and procedures regarding food safety in the Emirates will soon be regulated by this single law.
Dr bin Fahad announced the law's introduction yesterday after giving his opening address at the sixth Annual Dubai International Food Safety Conference, organised by Dubai Municipality.
The conference, held alongside the Gulfood Exhibition at Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre, took place under the slogan "Food Safety in Emerging Economies". The conference ends today.
"The food law is in process," said Dr bin Fahad. "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."
Dubai Municipality officials say that at present each emirate follows its own standards, which can create confusion when food travels across local boundaries. Food that is deemed unfit for consumption in one emirate may be sold to consumers in another. If there is one unified standard, officials said, there would be less food wastage and less confusion about food safety standards.
Dr bin Fahad also said yesterday that the Government has initiated the formation of the Biosecurity Committee, which the Ministry of Environment and Water is chairing. The committee will focus on factors such as the control of pesticide use on local or imported food products.
Other issues raised at the conference yesterday were growing concerns about food safety in emerging and developed countries.
Of particular concern is food safety in countries that export food to the Emirates.
Dubai — with a population of about 1.5 million and 13,500 food establishments — imports from at least 160 countries, according to Khalid Mohammed Sharif, director of the municipality's Food Control Department, and chairman of the conference.
The leading export countries for Dubai include India, China, Australia, Pakistan, Iran and Canada.
"The two-day conference will look at ways to reach achievable, reliable and sustainable solutions to enhance food security in emerging economies," said Mr Sharif. "We'll also address challenges faced by countries emerging as mass-producing economies, but have food-control systems not always developed as industrialised countries."
Last year, 8 per cent of food imported in Dubai was rejected because of non-compliance with safety measures. Some food was toxic, while other food was rejected because of its physical appearance.
"Some countries follow specifications dating back 40 years," said Mr Sharif. "We have a road map emphasising prevention is more effective. We need discussions at ports of origin to reduce the amount of rejected food and happy to give recommendations and exchange information."
The quantity of food imported through Dubai increased from 4.3 million tonnes in 2009 to about 6 million tonnes last year, said Hussain Nasser Lootah, director general of Dubai Municipality. Approximately 65 per cent of the food originated from countries with emerging economies, he added.
These countries realised they needed a voice, said Dr Karen Hulebak, chair of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, a joint programme with the World Health Organisation.
"We have 184 member countries, and virtually all new members are developing nations hungry for full participation to be at the table when standards are drafted, but face financial burdens," Dr Hulebak said during the keynote address.
She added that the Codex global trust fund should be re-examined, suggesting that the GCC embark on a pilot project for a regional hub that could lower financial burdens.
"Some people are struggling to afford the next meal," she said. "This is still a major concern, but it has shifted from the front pages of the 'rich' newspapers. Surging food prices push towards poverty and create political tension."
Samples in Sharjah ‘unfit’
SHARJAH // Five per cent of food samples taken in the emirate last year were found to be unfit for human consumption, said a senior municipality official.
Of 13,429 food samples examined by the Sharjah food laboratory, 516 failed to meet Federal standards, Sultan Abdullah al Mualla, the municipality’s director, said yesterday. He did not provide a comparative figure for the results.
The samples were taken from food coming into the country through air, sea and land, he said. Other samples were taken from food outlets such as restaurants, cafeterias and shopping centres.
* Yasin Kakande