UAE Cabinet approves mandatory food labelling policy to encourage healthier eating

Traffic light system will warn consumers about unhealthy food choices

Food labels featuring nutritional guidelines in a traffic light system will be mandatory across the UAE to help shoppers make healthier choices. Daniel Acker / Bloomberg
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A nutrition labelling policy offering consumers more information about the foods they eat has been approved by the UAE Cabinet.

It is the latest initiative to emerge from the Community Design for Wellbeing Initiative launched by the National Program for Happiness and Well-being in April 2019.

The policy aims to improve public health and raise community awareness by encouraging people to adopt a healthy lifestyle with the food choices they make.

Implementation will involve a soft roll-out before it becomes compulsory in January 2022.

The food labelling initiative is part of a series of new directives announced by the UAE Cabinet last month.

Labelling policy on foods will adopt a traffic light system for healthy and less healthy foods based on their ingredients and nutritional content.

A traffic light system will tell shoppers how healthy the food product is. Wam
A traffic light system will tell shoppers how healthy the food product is. Wam

Red, yellow and green labels will indicate sugar, salt and fat content, but the system is likely to exclude produce such as fruit, vegetables, meat and fish, fizzy drinks and energy drinks.

"The initiative … supports the National Food Security Strategy, which aims to sustain food safety, improve nutritional intake and reduce the consumption of unhealthy food elements by 30 per cent," said Mariam Almheiri, Minister of State for Food Security.

She said achieving these objectives would reduce diet-related diseases and other health issues.

"This policy will allow consumers to make better nutritional choices, and boost their confidence in the food industry, which will eventually enhance the national food security in the UAE," she said.

The Nutrition Labelling Policy was based on the results of a field study carried out by the Community Design for Wellbeing Initiative. Participants said simple and clear systems for food labelling would help them make healthy choices.

The survey also showed that the majority of the respondents (72.5 per cent) prefer colour-coded labels. The total number of people surveyed was not revealed.

A similar initiative in Dubai to mandate restaurants to label the amount of calories in the dishes served was proposed this year but has since been shelved.

Dubai Municipality had hoped to roll-out the calorie information policy in all restaurants, cafeterias and cafes with more than five branches by November.

That has since been delayed to give businesses more time to fall into line.

The scheme will be voluntary over the next two years before a final decision is made on a wider roll-out of public policy.

According to the World Health Organisation, more than 30 per cent of the region's population is obese.