Abu Dhabi: A tough new draft law will ramp up penalties for those found to be endangering food safety across the UAE, according to legislation to be debated by the Federal National Council in the next session on February 3.

The bill suggests a jail term of up to three years and a Dh2 million fine for those found endangering food safety.

The legislation, passed by the Cabinet in March last year, sets out key requirements to establish a system of effective regulatory and oversight services to ensure the protection of public health and consumers.

Under the draft law, no food may be imported into the country for the first time without approval of the Ministry of Environment and Water.

The draft law provides for a prison term of not less than a month and a fine of up to Dh500,000 for those who deal in food or products that contain pork or alcohol or any of their by-products without permission.

Misleading consumers by publishing a false description of food or using incorrect labels will attract a fine ranging from between Dh10,000 and Dh100,000, according to the draft law, which will need to be passed by the House and get a final endorsement by President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan before it becomes law.

“Out of more than 200,000 goods and commodities in the UAE’s markets, only 6,500 goods, including 300 foods, are covered by standards of the federal watchdog,” according to a report made by an ad-hoc FNC committee and debated recently.

The House was told recently many foods cause deaths and lethal ailments due to non-conformity with standards.

The report said as many as 85 per cent of cancers in the UAE are blamed on the absence of food standards for genetically modified foods.

Members of the House stressed that with more than 80 per cent of food products in the UAE being imported, the country has to compete in a global trading system where increasingly stringent requirements apply with regard to product quality, safety, health and environmental impacts.

The representative said consumers need proof from internationally recognised institutions that their products conform to these requirements.

Dr Rashid Ahmad Bin Fahd, Minister of Environment and Water, said out of ten million tonnes of food imported into the UAE, only three per cent was rejected, mainly for labelling.

“The UAE is recognised as a very well-regulated market, with other countries trusting our standards and conformity infrastructure. The country has a well-established standardisation body, it harmonises standards at the local and federal level and participates in regional and international standards-setting activities,” Dr Bin Fahd said.

Under the legislation, dealers in foods confiscated as per the new regulations will face a prison term of up to two years, a fine of between Dh100,000 and Dh300,000 or both.

The new regulations also penalise attempts to endanger food safety with the same penalties for actual offences.

The legislation authorises the Ministry of Economy to impose fines of up to Dh100,000 for other offences, provided that these offences are regulated by the Cabinet.