Interview : Hisham bin Saad Aljadhey
In which segments can food manufacturing be localised in the context of halal production?
HISHAM BIN SAAD ALJADHEY: A good example of supply chain localisation is the production of dairy products. Despite the country’s lack of water resources, there have been major successes in that sub-sector; from reaching self-sufficiency to becoming an exporter to neighbouring countries. There remain are a lot of other opportunities, especially for fish products. Consumption of fish in Saudi Arabia is relatively low, and for nutritive and health purposes – especially considering the benefits of an increased omega-3 intake – we would like to see this change. To this end, we could definitely benefit from a boost in aquaculture activities on the Red Sea coast.
How can food manufacturers be encouraged to cut down on salt, sugar and fat?
ALJADHEY: In the context of Vision 2030, one of the main objectives is to improve health standards for food consumption. For a long time, food was thought of in the context of security and self-sufficiency. Nowadays, safety and ensuring good quality of food are becoming more important. We now think of food as a way of preventing diseases, and the goal is to provide better nutrition intake for the consumer.
In line with the World Health Organisation’s recommendations, Saudi Arabia has launched many initiatives to reduce the amount of salt, sugar and fat consumed. In terms of fat, major steps have already been taken in 2018 to eliminate trans fats from our daily consumption, and by 2020 the objective is to reach 0% trans fats in all food consumed in the Kingdom, including from food imports. There are also restrictions on added sugar in the manufacturing of fresh juices and label requirements for packaging. The amount of salt is limited to 1% for all bread products, and this standard will be applied to many other products in the short term as well. Lastly, by 2020 new labelling will be put in place, which will highlight the percentages of important ingredients. In terms of outdoor eating, whether in restaurants, coffee shops or fast-food chains, as of January 1, 2019 it has become mandatory to indicate the number of calories for each item and dish on the menu. This was one of the most important decisions that the government made recently in order to create awareness around caloric intake and change food habits in the long term.
How can cardiovascular, diabetes and obesity issues be addressed over the longer term?
ALJADHEY: These types of health issues are the ones most commonly linked to food consumption. The Ministry of Health and the SFDA are working hand-in-hand to tackle those problems. Lately, there has been a big focus on high blood pressure, which is largely linked to salt consumption. For preventive purposes regarding other diseases such as cancer, a lot has been done to ensure that pesticides, chemicals and microbiological products are not used in the food production process. In 2019 the aim is to lower all the food contaminants that can be a threat to people’s health to 3%.
What can be done to incentivise investment and jump-start the local production of drugs?
ALJADHEY: In 2018 slightly over 30% of the country’s medication was manufactured locally; by 2020 the objective is 40%. The approval process for drug registration has been fast-tracked through an electronic system, improving the experience for investors, research and development, and drug discovery. There is also a strong procurement process in place through the National Unified Procurement Company, which is increasing and prioritising purchases from local production, thereby giving an incentive to international players to manufacture locally. A pharmaceutical trackand-trace system has also been put in place which is expected to save SR3bn ($300m) annually from frauds and other discrepancies. The whole supply chain has been sanitised and cleared of fraudulent activities.
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