United Arab Emirates' New Food Labeling Law Could Save Lives

In Dubai, a federal public health law is being drafted that government authorities hope will help people from dying of food allergies. The legislation is a combined attempt from Dubai's Ministry of Health, Ministry of Environment and Water, Health Authority, and Food Control Authority, and focuses on food labeling.

According to Dr. Aizeldin El Gak, the Director of Public Health at the Dubai Health Authority, the law is intended to reduce food allergy cases. The change in food labels will be welcomed by thousands of Dubai residents who have one or more food allergies.

There are already laws in the country that require warning labels about potential food allergens. The 2007 labeling guidelines require all potential allergens to be listed on the packaging. However, many foods don't carry the required warnings, which has led to dozens of hospitalizations over the past few years.

The introduction of stricter food labeling laws will be welcomed by the parents of William Whitcher, a four-year-old who almost died after eating a peanut butter sandwich. His parents did not realize that he had a severe peanut allergy. Now that they know not to allow their son to eat peanuts, they try not to buy any products containing peanuts, but lax food labeling laws make it difficult. William's mother says “ There is nothing here to protect against cross-contamination, so shopping can be a nightmare.” The problem, she says, is that “The packages on food products show the list of ingredients but it doesn't say, for example, if the food has been manufactured in the same factory that makes something with nuts.”

Dr. Michael Loubser, an allergy specialist in Dubai, says that the most common food allergies in Asia and the Middle East are chickpeas and sesame, not peanuts, although allergic reactions to sesame and chickpea can be just as life-threatening.

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