In December 2001, the government of Saudi Arabia implemented its biotech labeling decree for processed foodstuffs.
THIS REPORT CONTAINS ASSESSMENTS OF COMMODITY AND TRADE ISSUES MADE BY
USDA STAFF AND NOT NECESSARILY STATEMENTS OF OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT
Required Report - public distribution
GAIN Report Number:
Agricultural Biotechnology Annual
In December 2001, the government of Saudi Arabia implemented its biotech labeling decree for
processed foodstuffs. The decree requires positive biotech labeling if a product contains more than 0.9
percent genetically engineered vegetable (plant) ingredients. Also, in January 2004, the government
implemented a comparable biotech-labeling requirement on animal feed, fruit and vegetables while
banning imports of genetically engineered seeds. The Saudi Arabian government has indicated that the
purpose of biotech labeling was not a concern about genetically engineered products safety but
consumers right to know how food products they purchase are produced in order to make educated
Section I. Executive Summary:
Saudi Arabia is the only member state in the Gulf Cooperation Country (GCC) that requires mandatory
labeling of products derived from biotechnology. In January 2001 and December 2004, Saudi Arabian
government (SAG) implemented its biotech-labeling decrees on processed foodstuffs and animal feed
and respectively. The decrees require positive biotech labeling if a product contains more than 0.9
percent of genetically engineered (GE) vegetable (plant) ingredients. GE grains such as corn and
soybean meal are being imported from the U.S. and other suppliers. According to Saudi importers, U.S.
high value food products declared biotech free have tested negative and companies whose products test
negative will not be tested again for another six months. In May 2009, all responsibilities of inspecting
imported high value products at the Saudi ports of entry and implementing established food products
standards were passed to the Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA). In June 2011, the SFDA
assumed the tasks of setting food and feed standards from the Saudi Arabian Standards Organization
(SASO). There is not date established when the responsibilities of inspecting imported fruits,
vegetables, seeds and feed grains will be transferred from Saudi Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) to
SFDA. However, the SFDA has already started inspecting processed feed and feed concentrates at the
Saudi Arabia’s ports of imports.
As part of the GCC Customs Union, the six member states are working toward unifying their standard
and conformity assessment systems. After working on three biotech draft standards for three years,
Saudi Arabia decided in February 2009 to abandon its efforts to issue national biotech standards and
opted to join hands with other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council to work on promulgating GCC
wide agricultural biotech standards under the auspices of the Gulf Standards Organization (GSO).
The three SASO agricultural biotech drafts standards indicated below were submitted to GSO
Agricultural Biotech Subcommittee in 2009 and were immediately adopted as the GCC biotech draft
(1) General Requirements for Genetically Modified Food and Feed
(2) General Requirements for Genetically Modified Unprocessed Agricultural Products
(3) General Requirements for Risk Assessment and Traceability for Genetically Modified
In November 2010, Saudi Arabia on behalf of GCC countries sent the three draft GCC biotech standards
to WTO for public comments and established January 7, 2011 as a deadline to provide feedback. In
December 2010, ATO Riyadh officially submitted U.S. comments on the three GCC biotech draft
The GCC is currently in an advance stage in evaluating comments received for several counties on the three biotech draft
standards. According to SASO, the feedback received from several countries including U.S. comments will help the GCC
develop a regulatory framework for agricultural biotechnology.
Section II. Plant Biotechnology Trade and Production:
In January 2004, SAG banned imports of GE seeds and thus no biotech crop is grown in the country.
The SAG allows imports of biotech grains and plant/vegetable based processed foodstuffs as long as
they are labeled. For U.S. biotech grains, SAG has accepted a one-time biotech grains certification
statement from the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) submitted to
MOA in 2003. The statement certified that the exported transgenic grains are the same as those
consumed in the United States. The approved statement eliminates the need for a shipment-by-shipment
positive biotech certification for corn and soybean meal exported to the Kingdom. In 2004, the SAG
banned imports of all types of biotech seeds.
Section III. Plant Biotechnology Policy:
In December 2001, SAG implemented its biotech labeling decree for processed foodstuffs. The decree
requires positive biotech labeling if a product contains more than 0.9 percent genetically modified
vegetable (plant) ingredients. Also, in January 2004, the SAG implemented a comparable biotech-
labeling requirement on animal feed, fruit and vegetables while banning imports of GE seeds. Both
ministries justify that the purpose of biotech labeling was not a concern about GE products safety but
consumers right to know how food products they purchase are produced in order to make educated
Following is a summary of the biotech labeling requirements implemented by the SAG
1. Positive labeling: If a product contains one or more GE plant ingredient, the information should be
clearly communicated to the consumer by labeling. A triangle should be drawn on the label with text
that should read "Contains Genetically Modified Product (s)”. The SFDA will not accept a statement
that says "This Product May Contain biotech Ingredients". The statement should clearly state that the
product contains GE ingredients if more than 0.9 percent GE positive. Saudi Arabia does not permit
imports of foodstuffs that contain GE animal products. According to the SFDA, local food producers
must also abide by the biotech labeling requirements.
2. Bilingual labeling: The biotech statement must be clearly written in Arabic and English languages
with ink color different from that of the main product tag.
3. Health certificate: Biotech products exported to Saudi Arabia must have been approved in the
country of origin for human or animal consumption. Each shipment must be accompanied by a health
certificate issued by a government agency stating that the GE ingredient used in the foodstuff is
approved in the country of origin for human or animal consumption.
4. PCR Real Time Method: SAG approved the PCR Real Time Method for GE testing and set 0.9
percent threshold. If the test results reveal more than 0.9 percent of GE ingredient, the product is either
destroyed locally or re-exported to the country of origin. Products with less than 0.9 percent of GE
content are exempt from further testing for six months. If still on the market after six months, these
products must be tested and recertified. Presently, no GE-labeled retail food products are marketed in
Saudi Arabia, but GE-labeled bulk commodities and products destined for institutional end users are
imported and marketed.
5. Biotech health certificate: The SAG has agreed to accept health certificates issued by state
departments of agriculture for high value products instead of the previous requirement that the
certificates be issued by a federal government agency such as USDA or FDA for U.S. products. The
Ministry has reiterated its refusal to consider any health certificate issued by exporting companies or
other private organizations including notary public statements.
6. For U.S. grains: The SAG has accepted a one-time biotech grains certification statement from the
Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) submitted to the Ministry in 2003.
The statement certified that the exported transgenic grains are the same as those consumed in the United
States. The approved statement eliminates the need for a shipment-by-shipment positive biotech
certification for corn and soybean meal exported to the Kingdom. In 2004, the SAG banned imports of
all types of biotech seeds.
7. Saudi Arabia has ratified the United Nations Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety under the UN
Convention on Biological Diversity and implements its rules. The Kingdom’s Biosafety Committee,
which is headed by the King AbdulAziz City for Science and Technology’s (KACST) Natural
Resources and Environmental Research Institute, has been working to draft national Biosafety rules. As
a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), Saudi Arabia attends Access and Benefit
Sharing conventions such as the upcoming Resumed Ninth meeting of the Ad Hoc Open-ended
Working Group on Access and Benefit-sharing (WG ABS 9 Resumed) which is scheduled in Montreal,
Canada from July 10-16, 2010.
8. Saudi Arabia is a member of Codex Alimentarius (Codex) and the World Organization for Animal
(OIE). It regularly attends Codex and OIE meetings; however, it does not often take positions until
international agreements are reached.
Section IV. Plant Biotechnology Marketing Issues:
Both SFDA and MOA allow imports of processed and bulk biotech agricultural products, respectively,
provided they are labeled if biotech content is more than 0.9 percent in a given product. Biotech grains
such as corn and soybean meal are imported from the U.S. and other suppliers. Saudi labs at the port of
entry take food samples on a random basis for biotech testing. According to Saudi companies that
import foodstuffs from the U.S., test results thus far have been satisfactory. Food products declared
biotech free have tested negative, and companies whose products test negative will not be tested again
for another 6 months.
Since biotech labeling requirements were issued in 2001, no GE retail packed food products have been
imported to Saudi Arabia. Major foodstuff importers, who import foodstuffs either under their own
brand names or who serve as exclusive agents for well known international brands do not import
biotech foods and they do not put biotech label on their food products. They are concerned about doing
that could jeopardize their product image and result in loosing market shares which they have developed
over several years given that consumers have limited knowledge about agricultural biotechnology. On
the other hand, some European, Asian and local food producers put the biotech free symbol on their
Several local newspapers articles issued on agricultural biotechnology over the past several years
concentrated solely on its alleged negative impact on human health as well as on the environment.
Articles published in European newspapers, mostly, written by Green Peace and other anti-agricultural
biotech groups, were re-published in local newspapers. No local government agencies or agricultural
research centers have initiated a favorable media campaign to give unbiased information on biotech
food to the public. SAG has made it unequivocally clear on several occasions that the primary reasons
for requiring labeling of biotech foods are the consumers’ right to know. Consequently, importers have
been asking their U.S. suppliers to put the biotech free symbol on product labels to match initiatives
taken by many European suppliers. Shoppers in local supermarkets can now find many American and
European foodstuffs with biotech free labels.
Section V. Plant Biotechnology Capacity Building and Outreach:
In June 2008, ATO Riyadh helped recruit several high level GCC food safety officials to visit the
United States for a series of biotechnology meetings and informational exchanges with regulatory
officials and private industry.
In October 2008, ATO Riyadh and GSO organized the first joint three-day biotech seminar in Dubai,
U.A.E. stressing the importance of science-based protocols to assess risk for agricultural biotechnology.
While the USDA provided six biotech experts to speak and pay for their travel costs, the GSO paid for
costs related to organizing the seminar. Nearly, 100 Gulf food safety and standard officials attended the
seminar. The conference created a forum where U.S. and international views on various policy aspects
of agricultural biotechnology were heard and discussed. The seminar will assist the GSO biotech
committee in reviewing its biotech draft standards and issuing science-based biotech standards that will
govern imports of agricultural products to the six GCC member countries.
Since 2000, SASO and MOA have participated in many USDA sponsored biotech education trips to
U.S. as well as USG or USGC funded regional workshops, in Dubai, Cairo and Tunis.
Section VI. Animal Biotechnology:
In December 2001, Saudi Arabia banned imports of food products that contain any GE animal
ingredient. According to Islamic law (Sharia), which is implemented in Saudi Arabia, meat and meat
products must come from livestock and poultry in addition to meeting Halal (lawful) slaughtering
guidelines. Moreover, Sharia bans consumption of pork and food ingredients or additives that contain
pork products, including pork fat and gelatin. Livestock and poultry meat shipments must be
accompanied by a Halal slaughter certificate issued by Saudi government authorized Islamic center in
the country of origin.