Yet what she happily grabs to carry to the cashier to pay for is unlikely what it is supposed to be and there is also a good chance that it is not perfectly healthy for the little boy either. “I’ll cook this for lunch. He is waiting for this now actually,” she says, as she leaves the store, even if she fails to understand why the product she just purchased is so cheap.
There has always been a market for low quality, low price products -- food particularly –- everywhere, and this is probably how hundreds of millions of people around the world are surviving today. But one grows weary of seeing too many food products on sale for inexplicably low prices in supermarkets in a metropolitan city like İstanbul, home to nearly 15 million people today, where authorities have more control and human health must be under better protection than in smaller municipalities.
The situation is certainly not peculiar to a few sales locations or neighborhoods in this super-sized city, but rather one that can be witnessed in almost every corner of it. A kilogram of kaşar, a type of yellow cheese made of sheep milk, or a kilogram of “100 percent cow meat” sausages for less than TL 10 ($5.50) is accessible to everyone who has the courage to consume them or unfortunately cannot pay more for protein out of their pockets.
Yet what flooded the domestic market recently is something else, something sweeter and perhaps less necessary for low-budget households’ diets as they see it: honey. Up until very recently, TV channels -- mostly local stations but also some national ones among them -- were invaded by honey ads. Multiple firms were competing with each other, offering customers “not one, two, three or four but five kilograms of honey for the price of a kilogram of it.” Today those ads are not as popular as they used to be because a Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs investigation found out that those firms were actually deceiving people, and what they sold -- in large amounts -- was not honey, although it smelled and tasted like it.
Late last month, the ministry moved to ban sales of three honey brands -- Balderesi, Bal Teknesi and Osmanlı Bal Evi -- and also named two others as hazardous to consumers, to a lesser degree. It also demanded the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) stop broadcasting and publishing advertisements for the first three companies in accordance with the ban, effective immediately. The media watchdog said it would fine outlets that continue to run those ads. The five companies were fined TL 10,000 ($5,600) each.
According to allegations raised by earlier media reports, some honey companies stock healthy products in their stores in case of an unexpected audit, while delivering unhealthy products throughout the country. The ministry therefore changed its strategy and simply placed an order by phone with one of the companies in question. The product delivered contained excessive amounts of glucose syrup and pollen, therefore was thousands of miles away from being pure flower honey as the company claimed in the ads. The ministry is now set to expose five more such companies for their production of unhealthy honey.
In audits they ran in certain regions in Turkey, the ministry’s officials have also discovered in the past two weeks that some meat products that are supposed to be 100 percent cow meat according to the information on their labels also contained chicken, which is much cheaper. Yes, that was cheating, but the companies doing so sought an easy profit by at least not putting their customers’ health in jeopardy but only attracting greater attention to their products perceived as very cheap. Yet there are also those zealous enough for profit to mix minced chicken bone and skin, Sunday’s Zaman learned from an industry representative. According to İslam Ali Kopuz from the İstanbul Commodity Exchange’s (İSTİB) meat products desk, that mixture of minced chicken bone and skin is put together with red meat to produce sausage, salami and other similar products to later be sold to people in the marketplace. Chicken is normally sold for TL 7 per kilogram, but the unhealthy mixture can be bought for only TL 1 by those unscrupulous companies, Kopuz said. “There would be no health hazard if they used normal chicken, yet this is costlier for the producers and they obviously do not want to lose money,” he said.
Amid all the debate regarding food safety in the country, Religious Affairs Directorate officials also moved to react to abuses by companies. “Our Prophet, peace be upon him, once said, ‘Those who cheat us are not one of us’ to a vendor whose products were not as good as they seemed,” said Hüseyin Akıncı, an expert at the directorate’s Kayseri Training Center, speaking to Sunday’s Zaman. For him, all the profit earned in such business activities is considered “haram” (forbidden) in Islamic teaching. Necmettin Nursaçan, a former vice president of the directorate, said those cheating their customers are actually violating their rights and will be held accountable for such conduct in the afterlife.