Consumers say they are being kept in the dark about the red meat quality grading system in the UAE, which imports meat of five different quality levels.
They are demanding that the government give them mandatory quality labelling of red meat. They said they were taken by surprise over the grading system.
“Imported red meat must meet a set of criteria related to fat content, colour of meat and age of animal at one of five quality levels: Prime, Choice, Good, Commercial and Satisfactory,” a Ministry of Environment and Water spokesperson told Gulf News.
The spokesperson, however, assured consumers that imported meat of all quality grades  is healthy and safe because it must undergo checks and laboratory tests that guarantees it is fit for consumption.
“I never knew a meat grading system based on the colour of meat, estimated age of the animal at slaughter and its fat content existed in the UAE,” said Khalil Mohammad, an IT specialist and a long-time resident of the UAE.
Members of the Federal National Council earlier demanded the Government adopt an integrated approach to food safety through coherent farm-to-table measures and adequate monitoring.
Dr Rashid Ahmad Bin Fahd, Minister of Environment and Water, told the House in early March, 90 per cent of Australia’s meat exports go through UAE ports  and are re-exported to the rest of the world, which he said reflects the trust bestowed on the country by a nation with a highly regulated meat industry.
However, it has emerged that the quality of the red meat Australia exports to the UAE is not on a par with that exported to the US or UK.
An article Tiers of a Cow published in the March 14-20 edition of Business Review Weekly, Australia reported: “Australia has a group of 65 abattoirs — the so-called “tier 2” processors — supplying highly regulated export markets such as the US, UK and Japan. In addition, there is a group of 15 abattoirs - the “tier 1” processors — registered for export to a group of smaller markets including Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan and the UAE.”
Layla Khodjasteh, an Australian resident of the UAE, said she was “shocked to learn the quality of meat the UAE imports into the country is not on a par with that exported to other countries such as the US, the UK and Japan.
“This is particularly shocking considering the progress UAE has made as a nation and being a world leader across many industries ,” Layla said.
Ministry of Environment and Water officials stressed most of the red meat shipments imported from Australia were of high quality and met the UAE’s standards.
Vet inspectors of the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority (ADFCA) confirmed Australian red meat imported into the UAE was of the best quality with the least amount of red meat shipment being destroyed .
Mohammad Jalal Al Raisi, director of communication and community service at the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority, said imported red meat, including that of Australian origin was subjected to tests at all UAE’s ports.
“Meat shipments are again inspected by veterinarians in the Abu Dhabi automated abattoir  to ensure they meet safety standards and Sharia rules. Certificates of production and Halal slaughtering are also verified: "Meat yet again is checked at retail outlets,” Al Raisi said.
He added each country was eligible to set standards for meat imports.
Dr Hashim Al Nuaimi, director of the Consumer Protection Department at the Ministry of Economy, said the Ministry of Environment and Water, Adfca and municipalities across the country were tasked with ensuring red meat consumed in the country was healthy and safe.
Al Nuaimi added he had no information about a meat grading system in the UAE and his department “has no role in inspecting the quality of red meat.”
The Emirates Authority for Standardisation and Metrology (ESMA) did not say how consumers know the quality grade of the meat they buy and whether the rules provide for mandatory quality labelling of red meat, despite repeated requests by Gulf News. Australia’s two-tiered classification system, has one group saddled with tightly controlled rules, while less strict standards imposed on Tier One operators sees them trading into same or similar markets, sources told Gulf News.
“The anomalies of the regulations imposed by Australia’s Department of Forestry and Fisheries (Daff) means Tier One abattoirs, which export meat to the UAE, operate under a state system allowing self-audits on a yearly basis without the need for Daff appointed meat inspectors and vets to conduct daily checks on meat produced,” said a source who wished not to be named.
The source added Tier Two operators, however, operate under the Commonwealth system and must have Daff vets and meat inspectors auditing meat daily and present on site for overseas market export requirements.
The source noted that the traceability of meat coming from a Tier One plant or a Tier Two plant was lost once Australian meat was cleared into the UAE.
Concerning standards, demanded by the highly regulated markets such as the US, UK and Japan in terms of red meat imports, the source said the standards of the European markets for example sees greater demands and expectations.