imported food to be safe, hygienic, in compliance with international standards and GCC regulations and be fit for human consumption. Food imports must follow strict guidelines of authenticity and certification from their country of origin.
Meanwhile, the Port Health & Food Control Section monitors the standards and safety of food imports into Qatar. Its functions include periodic inspections, testing and sampling for spoilage and chemical and microbiological contamination at four designated entry ports throughout Qatar. Qatar is currently constructing a major commercial port facility, Hamad Port, just outside of Doha, to meet the significant growth of imports into the country.
All consignments of imported food must supply appropriate documentation and certification with original health certificates issued by a professional authority in their country of origin; reflecting compliance to GCC regulations. Inspection and clearance of imported food consignments are carried out according to GCC requirements and, where relevant, the principles of international organisations. Consignments that fail to adhere to the regulations can be detained or sent back to the country of export with strict penalties and bans imposed on the importer. The Supreme Council of Health estimated that within the last five years, almost 950,000 kg of unsafe food was destroyed while nearly 2.5 million kg was re-exported to its country of origin.
Foods in retail and wholesale markets are also regularly inspected and tested at random. If a discrepancy is found, the product is removed and destroyed at the importer’s expense.
The importance of food ingredients and labelling
Qatar’s food products repeatedly cross national boundaries, which can make it vulnerable to contamination and other hazards. Aware of these risks, Qatar adheres to strict guidelines to ensure the safety of its food imports.
Qatar’s import regulations are based upon standards set by the Gulf Standards Organization (GSO), the CODEX Alimentarius, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).
The biggest difference between imported food products in Qatar and non-Gulf countries is the GSO shelf life and labelling technical regulations. All food items must be clearly labelled with product and manufacturing information, country of origin, halal slaughter certification and production and expiration dates, which are often shortened from the overly long shelf life of certain products.
Of course, as an Islamic country, Qatar has strict requirements for meat and poultry products. In 2013, the horsemeat scandal in Europe put a question mark on the integrity of some of the market leaders. In response, Qatar toughened up its certification process to ensure that meat was unadulterated. Based on the latest 2015 OIE reports, Qatar has banned animal food imports from a number of countries to ensure that poultry, egg and meat products were free from BSE (mad cow disease), Avian Influenza and Ebola contamination.
Otherwise, food additives and preservatives, artificial sweeteners, colourings, flavourings, and pesticide residue levels are subject to the standards of the Codex Alimentarius and other internationally recognized organisations.
GSO regulations are often derived from a combination of CODEX, Australian, Canadian or other international standards. These standards address acceptable limits of aflatoxin and other toxins, radiation and irradiation in food products as well as maximum residue levels of veterinary drugs including antibiotics, antibacterials and hormones.
The Qatar National Food Security Programme
The World Health Organisation defines food security as existing when “all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life.” While Qatar certainly has plenty of food, its dependency on food imports has limitations. Imports can be susceptible to fluctuating price increases, embargoes, food shortages and volatile political relations with neighbouring countries.
In the wake of the 2008 food crisis when the price of imported foods skyrocketed, the Qatar government created the Qatar National Food Security Programme, an ambitious programme to boost domestic agriculture and food production to create self-sufficiency within the country. Committed to taking charge of its own food security, it aims to bring the country as close as possible to food self-sufficiency by 2030. Authorities have been trying to tackle the state’s food security through a number of projects aimed at boosting production at home and abroad including the purchase of arable land throughout the world in order to develop sustainable farming practices to support Qatar’s long-term food requirements. With increasing uncertainty of food security, global warming and political volatility, land acquisitions provide a safety net for food production needs. Through Hassad Food, a wholly owned subsidiary of Qatar Investment, Qatar currently owns farmland in Sudan, Australia, Kenya, Brazil, Vietnam and the Philippines, with future land purchases possible in North and South America.