x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

GCC weighs rules for better food safety

New rules across GCC will help bring food in more quickly as Supreme Council is reviewing unifying standards. Decision is expected to be made by the end of the year.

DUBAI // New rules across the Arabian Gulf should help to bring food into the GCC more quickly, reducing the risk of dangerous contamination as containers sit for weeks in high temperatures.

The GCC's Supreme Council met this week to discuss unifying food-import rules, which would mean quicker clearance at entry points around the Gulf. Officials hope a decision will be made by the end of the year.

"Food containers in the GCC can reach up to 70°C in summer for a couple of weeks because of clearance," said Hassan Bayrakdar, the head of scientific and regulatory affairs at the food maker Mars in the Middle East, Africa, Turkey and India. "This greatly reduces shelf life."

GCC countries have a patchwork of standards. The rules will ensure each nation has the same documents, methods of testing and criteria for accepting halal certificates.

"This also includes accepting the same health certificates and [documents] for contaminants such as melamine or dioxin," said Bashir Yousef, a food safety expert at Dubai Municipality. "They must all be unified."

Dioxin, a highly toxic contaminant released during long-term storage of fish, shellfish, meat and dairy products, can cause serious food poisoning in humans.

The World Health Organisation says more than 90 per cent of exposure to dioxin is through food. It can cause serious damage to the immune system and hormones, trigger developmental and reproductive problems and is also thought to be carcinogenic.

Therefore, reducing long-term storage is key to ensuring consumer safety.

"Many countries don't agree on certain things," said Bobby Krishna, Dubai Municipality's senior food health officer. "All of them have standards but enforcement depends on country to country. Qatar can decide to implement something without informing other countries."

Mr Yousef said a decision should be made before the end of the year.

"It will help all the countries in the GCC because if food is imported by Dubai, then it will automatically be accepted by Qatar or other countries," he said. "Consumers move and travel a lot, so when you make sure all the legislations are applied uniformly and effectively according to health requirements, you will be confident that food is safe."