LAHORE: To stop its staff from jumping the gun and levelling unfounded allegations on the sale of pig or donkey meat, the Punjab Food Authority (PFA) is planning on making an example of two food safety officers. Both men were involved in a case in which a meat vendor was falsely accused of selling pork, The Express Tribune has learnt.
On September 2, 2015, an FIR was registered against a vendor for bringing pork into Lahore. The report sparked anger and disappointment not just in the city, but throughout the country.
However, the accused were acquitted by a court after the allegations were found to be baseless. IntertTek and UVAS laboratories which tested the suspicious samples also rejected the PFA’s claims.
It all took just two days, but the damage could not be undone.
This was not the first time PFA came under the spotlight for spreading such allegations. Since the inception of the PFA in 2012, five FIRs have been lodged against the sale of meat from pigs, donkeys or horses.
Lahoris being served pig and donkey meat became a national joke at the time and the thought still haunts foodies venturing out for a quick bite.
With Lahore’s food culture being mocked, PFA officers, under the new administration of Director General Noorul Amin Mengal, issued an order on January 31, 2017. It directed the authority’s officers to refrain from making any public statements or declarations about food sourcing without verified lab reports to back them up.
According to PFA and Lahore City District Government officials, the allegations made before the media were either completely false or misleading. They said that in the case of the pig meat FIR, former PFA Lahore Operations Director Ayesha Mumtaz told the media that a seized consignment was “reportedly pig meat”.
They asked how she could claim that the consignment was “reportedly” pig meat when she was the officer in-charge. They added it was her job to determine and report the matter. The officials also wondered over her sources were and how she could level such serious allegations without corroborative evidence.
They said that the people against whom the other four FIRs were lodged – three in 2014 and one in May 2015 – were not selling donkey or substandard meat to food outlets. The PFA officials said the suspects were actually selling of hides of various animals to tanneries and bones and other remains for poultry feed and gelatine makers. It was never sold for human consumption, they asserted.
PFA issued a show cause notice on February 27, 2017 to two food safety officers involved in a case. Both the officers accompanied Mumtaz in the operations. The notices refer to alleged misconduct, inefficiency, and misuse of authority. They were questioned over charges of declaring the meat seized from Lahore Railway Station as ‘haram’ prior to the results of test reports.
According to the notice, the action spread apprehension among the masses and created a bad name for the city, province and country on the national and international level. It further stated the inquiry officer has recommended the imposition of a major penalty of even termination. However, the accused officials were given the chance of personal hearing before the director general.
Despite several attempts, this scribe could not get a hold of Ayesha Mumtaz for comments.
PFA Director General Noorul Amin Mengal said that PFA staff would not make any declarations regarding legitimacy of food products without basing them on lab reports. He said that no officer would be allowed to spread panic and bring a bad name to the local food industry. Noor stated such allegations have grave consequences and should only be made on the basis of facts.
Regarding the inquiry, he said that the officers would be fired if found guilty. Replying to a question about personnel hearings, he said that he could not comment on an ongoing inquiry.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 23rd, 2017.