(MENAFN- The Journal Of Turkish Weekly) To stock or sell pork is illegal in Muslim-majority Pakistan. Yet last week health authorities seized a delivery suspected to be of pork and donkey meat being supplied to the markets of Lahore city, to be sold as beef or mutton.
It put a spotlight onto the problem of substandard and adulterated foods being sold to Pakistan's unwitting populace, as well as a crackdown being attempted by the government in northeastern Punjab province which has seen hundreds of restaurants and shops sealed off over the last month.
The operation has been the product of the relentless drive of Ayesha Mumtaz, the head of Punjab's Food Department.
Under her watch, the department has seized substandard and adulterated food across the province, with a focus on milk and meat.
Last month, she brushed off pressure for her to be sacked when she sealed the restaurant and bakery of two five-star hotels in Lahore.
"The food business is one of the most lucrative businesses in Pakistan but the people involved in this business generally consider them above the law, which will no longer be tolerated," Mumtaz said.
"People are generally attracted by the fancy buildings and expensive interiors of restaurants and other food outlets. But what they are providing them to eat is unimaginable in many cases," she said, noting that raids on several restaurants found they were using bad quality meat or even animals that were already dead, rather than slaughtered for consumption.
Her findings are not peculiar to Pakistan. The Indian government revealed in July that a fifth of all sampled food was adulterated or misbranded.
Bangladesh in recent years has cracked down on fresh produce like fruit, meat and fish, which sellers tried to preserve the shelf-life of by treating with the chemical formalin, which is used to embalm corpses and is thought to be potentially cancerous if consumed over long periods of time.
Mumtaz said her push has been fully backed by Punjab's Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, the brother of Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who she says is "fully convinced" of the need to tackle the problem.
"I will continue my duty without any fear. Even if I am transferred, there are many other competent and sincere officers who will continue this mission," she said confidently.
While there has been no shortage of appreciation for Mumtaz's efforts, there has also been criticism for those who accuse her of damaging the country's food industry.
Milk sellers in Lahore went on strike last week after the food department launched a crackdown against the sale of adulterated milk. They accused Mumtaz and her team of creating panic among the general public.
"People will start doubting every restaurant owner and milk seller because of this hyper-active campaign," Saleem Ahmed, who runs a restaurant in northern Lahore, told Anadolu Agency. "There should be difference between checking and harassment. We are open to food authorities any day and anytime. But they have no right to harass us or destroy our business."
Saleem claimed the sale of meat items had almost halved in the weeks since the crackdown began.
Mumtaz however, had little concern for the complaints from the country's food industry.
She said laboratory tests have vindicated her actions, revealing that detergent, soda and other substances have been used to thicken milk being sold in Lahore.
"There is no need to get scared. This is the right of the 90 million people of Punjab to know what they are being fed with. When the masses are aware of their rights, the mafia has to surrender to the people's will," she said.
She has also pushed for the government to ban the export of donkey skin, which she thinks is a major cause for the slaughter of donkey's and leads to their meat being sold in markets.
Despite the food sector's concerns, the general public have been pleased by the drive.
"I have seen for the first time in my life a government is acting to protect our health," Zarmeen Niazi, a Lahore businesswoman told Anadolu Agency.
"I have never been a fan of Shahbaz Sharif government but in this case, I fully appreciate and support him," she said, urging for the campaign to be extended to the rest of Pakistan.
Others shared Niazi's view, including Zahid Anwar, a law student at Punjab University.
"Playing with the health of people is no less than terrorism. I salute this brave lady for contesting this mafia," he said.
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