x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

New federal food law by the end of this year

Range of challenges for regulators include food poisoning, pesticides, veterinary drugs, additives, growth hormones and poor hygiene.

A food inspector examines dairy produce in a supermarket in Abu Dhabi.
A food inspector examines dairy produce in a supermarket in Abu Dhabi.

DUBAI // With tragedies behind and challenges ahead, the time is ripe for the new federal food law, and it will be in force by the end of the year, authorities said yesterday. Four children aged eight or younger died from food poisoning in Dubai last year.

Even as the country's emirate-by-emirate food regulations are brought under a single federal umbrella, Rashid bin Fahad, the Minister of Environment and Water, identified looming new risks to the food supply. "Despite the development and advancement in food technology and manufacturing, we still face many challenges with regards to food safety, especially food-borne illnesses," Mr bin Fahad said at the Dubai International Food Safety Conference.

"This is because of the change in consumer trends and difference in food regulations between different countries, as well as poor hygienic practices and abusing the use of pesticides, veterinary drugs, food additives and growth hormones." The new legislation, he said, would lead to better prevention of food-poisoning and more hygienic standards and practices. He said Dubai Municipality would co-ordinate with health authorities and civic bodies from other emirates to draw up a unified action plan.

This plan will involve the training of hotel, restaurant and cafeteria staff on safe food practices as well as continued inspections of food outlets and penalising offenders. "We hope to have the new food law in place by end of the year," said Mr bin Fahad. "We have already started the process and the committee responsible to form the law has already finished the first draft." At present, the municipal authority of each emirate has its own food-safety regulations.

The new legislation will apply to food producers, distributors and retailers, including restaurants and supermarkets. The opening ceremony of the three-day food-safety conference yesterday came with an assurance by Mr bin Fahad that a consolidated, national approach would improve efforts to guarantee a safe food supply. "Before, we have a lot of procedures and regulations but not unified under one law," he said.

The World Health Organisation lists more than 250 food-borne diseases which are contracted by more than 30 per cent of the world's population every year. It estimates that 2.2 million people die annually from food-borne diseases. Hussain Lootah, the director general of Dubai Municipality, said: "This conference comes at a time when the concept of producing one dish of food from one country is diminishing, as the component of one food could be produced in more than 10 different countries.

"This has put tremendous pressure on the food-control authorities around the world to ensure the safety of foods for the public." pmenon@thenational.ae