Roundup: Food standards high on Gulf countries' agenda

February 23, 2012 11:41 am 

DUBAI, Feb. 23 — With their food imports to hit 51 million tons in 2020 (currently 40.6 million tons), Gulf countries are pushing up the hygienic standards of their food and beverage (F&B) industry and are opening more doors to exporters across the globe, according to the trends shown at the ongoing Gulfood held in Dubai.

The Gulf Arab's total population will grow from 40 million to 50 million by 2020. According the United Arab Emirates' (UAE) Ministry of Foreign Trade, some 90 percent of the country's comestible goods are imported due to its hot and humid desert climate.

The entire Arab world comprises some 350 million people. Because of this, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is an El Dorado for the global food industry, as it can be seen at the 17th Gulfood from Feb. 19 to 22 in Dubai, where about 3,800 firms from 88 countries came to exhibit and some 70,000 visitors in the industry are expected.

Due to a number of food scandals in recent years, the UAE has raised the hygienic standards of the F&B industry. In every restaurant, fast food outlet and hotel, there must be a person responsible for the cleanliness in the kitchen and the dining areas.

In 2011, the Dubai Municipality found that 250 restaurants were unsafe in terms of hygienic practices. 15 food outlets were temporarily closed, while 97 percent of the inspected fish sellers were warned in the first half of 2011.

Accordingly, exporters to the region face two challenges–the Arab states demand the F&B companies not only to fulfill strict quality standards similar to those in the European Union (EU) but also be processed in line with the Islamic Law.

According to the research group Euromonitor International, the global halal food industry has reached 1.2 trillion U.S. dollars in 2010 and is going to double by 2014.

Halal food, which Muslims regard as pure, does not contain alcohol, pork, animal blood or adipose. Sheep, chicken or cows have to be slaughtered in a specific way so as to be certified as halal by a board of Shari'ah scholars.

While the majority of the 1.5 million Muslims live in North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and Southeast Asia, halal food processing is not only confined to these regions but on an international phenomenon.

At the ongoing Gulfood fair and exhibition in Dubai, the largest of food convention in the region which runs in its 17th edition, the vast majority of the participating F&B firms from 88 countries has halal food in their portfolio.

"In 1974, we were the first U.S. food company which started mass production of halal food," said Gulfood exhibitor Yahya Aossey, director of meat producer Midamar from the U.S. state of Iowa.

Aossey said that besides respecting the principles of Islam, " we also set a high emphasis on food quality. All of our products bear the quality seal of the Department of Agriculture, the highest quality seal in the U.S."

Besides meat, there are halal chocolate bars as well as Islamic soft drinks in the market or even halal champagne, without alcohol, of course.

Franz Ernstbrunner, project manager from the Austrian International Trade Fairs, which organized the Austrian pavilion, sees a growing trend for bio-products.

"People in the Middle East like the idea to eat cheese from cows being fed with organic food, rather than with pharmaceuticals, " Ernstbrunner said.

Germany has developed a F&B quality plan which goes even beyond that of the EU. In the southern German federal state of Bavaria, " farmers can be inspected at all times and milk farmers are also controlled on how they store their products," said Roland Schwing, sales director of the foundation of the Bavarian milk industry.

For Mohamed Salim Makwana, deputy general manager of the International Fish Farming Holding Company founded in 1998 in the UAE capital of Abu Dhabi, European standards are the benchmark in terms of quality.

"There are over 100 species of fish in the Arabian Gulf. We must ensure the cool storage of fish and proper food processing. We are a young company, but we are ready to compete with our peers from abroad and aim to constantly improve our standards of quality." (PNA/Xinhua)



Comments are closed.