"As a food hub, the UAE would import commodities and ingredients, and use local resources to repackage or redistribute them. It would also export more of its own national produce, such as dates and spices,” said Andrew Gauldie, food safety and consumer protection officer at the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). “One of the first steps in achieving the food security goal is to formulate a federal food safety law that harmonises action plans and strategies in different emirates.”
The comments were made during a two-day workshop held in Abu Dhabi by the FAO, which saw a number of key UAE officials taking part. The FAO was established to improve global nutrition, increase agricultural productivity, enhance food security and contribute to economic growth.
The Ministry of Environment and Water is working to establish a food safety law, with inputs from various emirates. However, previous attempts to bring the seven states, which make up the UAE, together on countrywide matters have proved fraught with problems, especially with Abu Dhabi and Dubai’s trade dominance over some of the smaller emirates.
“A draft law already exists. We at the FAO conducted a nationwide assessment earlier this year and are now working to present results and observations that indicate whether official controls in the UAE comply with international norms,” added Gauldie.
“The main challenge is that there are seven emirates. Some are advanced like Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and others are progressing,” said Abdu Gasem Al Assiri, the FAO’s coordinator and representative in the UAE.
The law will also address the issue of food security, which is an important topic for the Emirates, as it relies almost entirely on imported food, bringing in around 90% of everything on supermarket shelves. Due to the harsh desert conditions local food production is limited to produce like tomatoes, cabbage, eggplant, squash and cauliflower, as well as citrus and mangoes.
Once implemented the law is expected to address all food-related issues, including quality, food testing laboratory standards, agricultural practices, and regulations for food business operators such as restaurants, canteens, supermarkets and grocery stores.
“At present, there are different approaches to food safety in each of the emirates. A clear policy option is to harmonise these approaches, build capacity for food security and then identify a suitable central competent authority to enact the law and monitor its implementation,” Gauldie said.
The first federal food safety law is expected to be adopted by next year. A spokesman for the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority said a new section for animal feed had just been added to the draft and was “being revised by the Ministry of Environment and Water and other stakeholders”.
“It’ll then be brought to the Ministry of Justice to be approved and, if it all goes well, it could be adopted next year,” the spokesman added.