EATING SMARTER

Saudi Arabia 2020 | AGRICULTURE | INTERVIEW

Among other things, SFDA is responsible for observing the safety, security, and effectiveness of food and drugs in Saudi Arabia.

Hisham Saad Aljadhey
BIOGRAPHY
Hisham Saad Aljadhey was appointed President of SFDA in 2016. He was previously the dean of the college of pharmacy and Vice Dean for graduate studies and research at the college of pharmacy at King Saud University (KSU). He received his BA from KSU, his pharmacy doctorate from Purdue University, and his philosophy doctorate in pharmacy-epidemiology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

SFDA introduced its Healthy Food Strategy in September 2018. Can you brief us on the main policy points and their progress over the last year?

Improving diets is extremely important, as we implement the government's Vision 2030 in terms of improving health and business opportunities in the Kingdom. For example, there are recommendations by the WHO to eliminate industrial trans fats, prevent the use of partially hydrogenated oils in the food industry by 2023, and reduce the consumption of sugar, salt, and fat in food content in order to prevent NCDs. We have moved from hunger and a lack of food toward food security followed by food safety. Today, we are moving to healthy foods in order to prevent diseases. Furthermore, in 2018 we were able to reduce allowable levels of trans fats to around 2% in oil products and 5% in other food products with an outstanding 95% industry compliance level for both local and imported goods. Our main goal now is to reduce industrial-produced trans fats in foods to 0%, as recommended by WHO. Compliance levels are excellent; nevertheless, we are constantly improving the processes and providing guidance toward the main stakeholders and beneficiaries. By 2020, SFDA also intends to improve the food-labeling system to declare any added sugars, trans fat, and sodium. It will take years of collaborative work to achieve all these goals, though the cornerstone for this is to educate the public to select their food wisely and introduce healthier food choices to their daily intake.

Would you tell us more about SFDA's dialogue and engagement with the private sector?

SFDA has signed agreements with several alliances and nine major companies, encouraging them to reduce salt, sugar, and fat content and improve their products. We work closely with these companies in providing ideas for successfully promoting a healthier product and responding to their concerns over losing current or potential customers. We think about this more in terms of an open dialogue, rather than having it presented to the industry as a requirement, encouraging them to move toward healthier products as we do not intend to cut products out of the market unless they present a hazard.

How is SFDA working with other agencies on food security and healthy consumption goals?

We work closely with the relevant stakeholders, such as the Ministry of Environment, Water, and Agriculture (MEWA), especially in the aquaculture part. Our number-one goal is to ensure reasonable pricing for products together with MEWA. We are also working on educating the public and increasing awareness. For instance, we focus on the health benefits of consuming fish, as fish consumption is currently low in Saudi. We also have initiatives to ensure high quality standards for all imported fish. We also banned products from a number of countries due to compliance issues with SFDA's standards and regulations.

In 2018, Saudi Arabia produced 30% of its pharmaceuticals locally, and SFDA seeks to increase this to 40% this year. What is your vision and strategy to produce more medicine locally?

In the last few years, SFDA has activated a number of encouraging practices to boost the local production of medication. One factor is on the registration side, where we help companies register products as much as possible from here. The government entity NUPCO was established to be responsible for purchasing pharmaceuticals and medical devices on behalf of the public sector. SFDA reviews all products to ensure at least 50% of generic medication is manufactured here. We are also bringing in local manufacturing of medicines where there is a worldwide shortage, for example because manufacturers are not interested in producing a particular medication, as the price is too low. We will guarantee a price that will cover their costs with a reasonable profitability. Major companies are ready to start production again and supply the Saudi public health sector with these pharmaceutical products.