Regulations concerning Import of pre-packaged food products in KSA

BY Akhil Reza


Saudi Arabia is the largest importer of food and agricultural products among the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries (UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain) and leads in population larger than total population of the five GCC states. In 2014, Saudi Arabia’s population was estimated at about 30 million, and whereas it is expected to reach 40 million by 2025. There is a clear demand for food imports as Saudi Arabia relies on foreign suppliers to fulfil about 80 percent of its food consumption needs. The changing lifestyle and diets in Saudi Arabia are expected to boost the demand for high quality food products. The latest available U.N. trade data shows Saudi Arabia imported $19 billion worth of food and agricultural products in 2014, a decline of about 5 percent from imports in 2013. The top five suppliers of food products to the Saudi market were India, Brazil, U.S, Germany and Argentina.

As the largest importer of food products among GCC states, Saudi Arabia never compromises on religious compliance, the food safety as well as the quality of products entering its market. Hence, KSA formed a sole Saudi government entity The Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA) to form food product regulations and standards as well as conduct inspections of imported food products to ascertain that they meet established Saudi standards and GCC standardization Organization (GSO) standards. The SFDA strictly enforces Saudi and GSO food import regulations, standards and circulars particularly those related to allowable limits for food additives and labeling requirements.

I would like to discuss a few of the requisites that pre-packaged foods must comply with mandatory labelling requirements as set by SFDA.

According to Circular No. P/711 dated 04/24/2010 of the Food and Drug General Authority regarding importing food products, the notification of food importers and manufacturers to stakeholders states that they must fully comply with Gulf Standard Specifications No. GSO 9/2007 titled “Laying the Regulations Technical for pre-packaged foodstuffs. Which was amended and approved by the GSO Board of Directors at its meeting No. (18) held on 02/10/2013, this approved standard replaces and replaces Standard No. GSO 9/2007.

According to the general requirements on labelling for all pre-packaged food shall observe that the Pre-packaged food shall not be described or presented on any label or in any labelling by words, pictorial or other devices which refer to or are suggestive either directly, of any other food product with which such food might be confused or in such a manner as to lead the purchaser or consumer to suppose that the food is connected with the other product. Pre-packaged food shall not be described on any label in a manner that is false, misleading or deceptive or is likely to create an erroneous impression regarding its character in any respect. If the label uses any special logo for quality or organic product etc., the authorities (SFDA) might ask to provide a proof of the validity of these claims). The label shall not carry any phrases or logos or symbols related to quality management system, example: ISO 9001:2008 etc.,

The mandatory labelling of pre-packaged foods. The label shall display the name of the food, list of ingredients, net contents, name and address of the manufacturer or packer, the name of the distributor may be written, the country of origin, date marking and instructions for storage and use. Additionally, for irradiated foods, the labelling of a food which has been treated with ionizing radiation shall include a written statement indicating such a treatment in close proximity to the food name and the symbol for International Food Irradiation should be displayed.

In the list of ingredients, the Nutritional Information shall be declared on labels of pre-packaged foodstuffs intended for direct consumption or after heating. The nutritive value of the pre-packaged foodstuffs to include such essential elements as: (Carbohydrates- Fats- Protein- Dietary fibers – Energy).

The label shall display of mandatory information and its general requirements. Labels stuck to the pre-packaged foods shall be applied in such a manner as to prevent their removal from the container. Statements intended to appear on the label shall be marked in a clearly visible and easily legible manner, under the normal conditions for purchase and use. When the container is covered by a wrapper, this shall carry the necessary information; or the label on the container shall be readily legible through the wrapping and not obscure thereby. The name and net contents of the food shall appear in a prominent position within the same scope of vision. Any illegal or unauthorized nomenclature, terminology, coding, pictorial etc., shall not be used. If the informative label is in contact with the foodstuff, it shall not contain any chemicals or so. The ink used therein shall not be oozing or leaking in any way.

The label and adjoining explanatory statements shall be in Arabic and, where another language is used, it shall be alongside the Arabic. All the information provided in another language shall be identical with those written in Arabic. If the Arabic information is stated in a supplementary sticker adjacent to the original label, then It shall be a single sticker provided by the manufacture only, to fulfil all the relevant stipulations provided in this GSO standard. It shall not obscure any information required by this standard. It shall not contain any statement discrepant with the original labelling. The label shall be irremovable in the ordinary handling and transporting conditions of the pre-packaged foodstuff. It is not permitted to put an additional sticker of production and expiration date, and not be more than one date of production and expiration on the container. Dates must not be removed, changed or misplaced.

The Saudi Customs Law stipulates that the goods in respect to food entering KSA by import are ordered for inspection and analysis by the director general of the Customs department. The customs office may have the goods analyzed and inspected by staffs of SFDA to verify the kind and specifications of the goods or their conformity to the regulations and laws. However, the director may release the goods against an appropriate undertaking ensuring that the goods will not to be disposed or sold until the analysis result from SFDA is issued. If such analysis proved to be negative i.e. not in conformity to the regulations and laws, then the goods will be destroyed at the expenses of the respective owners or their representatives, in certain cases, the goods shall be re-exported to the source country in which case a report of the same shall be made.

Any food products that have already entered Saudi markets, if found to be non-compliant with regulations of SFDA, then under such circumstances the manufacturer, importer or the distributor will be held liable and penalties will be taken against them and they shall be subjected to a fine not exceeding five hundred thousand riyals, imprisonment for a period not exceeding two years or both.

The above article is not a legal opinion.

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