Under the draft legislation food safety offenders would risk a jail term of up to three years and a fine of 2 million dirhams (US$550,000).
In addition, the legislation provides for a prison term of not less than a month and a fine of up to 500,000 dirhams (US$14,000) for those dealing in food products that contain pork or alcohol or any of their by-products without approval.
Those found to be misleading consumers by publishing a false description of food or using incorrect labels will attract a fine ranging from between 10,000 dirhams (US$2,700) and 100,000 (US$27,000) dirhams.
The legislation, passed by the UAE government’s Cabinet last month, is now in front of the Federal National Council (FNC), which is the federal authority of the UAE formed to represent the general Emirati people.
The council will need to pass it before it gets a final endorsement by UAE’s President and becomes law.
Long time coming
FoodNavigator reported in November that lawmakers in the UAE were working towards unifying their food safety standards under one federal safety law, which was likely to go into force in 2014.
A unified food safety law was the demand of many exporters to the UAE, as it would unify and standardize food testing labs spread across the country.
This would mean that after the port of entry, exporters could obtain their certification at the closest lab and it will be valid across the UAE.
Arjun Chavan, a Mumbai-based halal meat and frozen foods exporter, told FoodNavigator that the unified food safety law will make it easier for exporters to access UAE’s booming food retail and service markets.
The UAE market—where per capita food consumption currently stands at 1,486kg per year—is the fastest growing food service and retail market in the GCC region.
GCC stands for the Gulf Cooperation Council, which comprises of the Persian Gulf states of United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait.
Harsher fines for ‘offending’ exporters
Members of the FNC acknowledged that, according to local news reports, stressing that with more than 80 per cent of food products in the UAE being imported, the country had to bring its laws in line with international standards.
Dr. Rashid Ahmad Bin Fahd, minister of Environment and Water, told local media that out of ten million tonnes of food imported into the UAE, only 3% was rejected, mainly for labelling.
The new draft food safety law would also punish dealers of confiscated foods, making them face a prison term of up to two years, a fine of between 100,000 (US$27,000) dirham and 300,000 dirham (US$81,000) or both.
As per UAE law, the draft legislation, if passed, will take effect three months after being published in the official gazette.