Could They Lead to Consumer Services Discrimination ?

KHARTOUM, (sudanow.info.sd/SUNA) – Human-beings experienced a long history of discrimination nonetheless, the free, vigilant human conscience managed to erase the disparities. However, today, there has appeared a new kind of discrimination of providing the consumers with commodities of different qualities in defiance of the Standards and Measurements Department’s set principles and specifications.

 

The idea of this report originated from a chat about the soaring prices, particularly meats, including chicken which is reportedly sold at low prices in some residential quarters and neighborhoods of Khartoum State and at high prices in other areas. This means that either there are people who make excessive profits or there are others who tend to hide something they are unwilling to reveal.  These two assumptions have prompted us into a search for finding the truth by a tour of a number of poultry farms and meeting a number of the concerned officials.

Costly Production

 

In spite of the growing investment in poultry in the Sudan, the cost of production in this field is still very high compared to the regional and international situation as stated by the Director-General of Khartoum State’s Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources, Dr. Tal al-Dinn Mohamed Saeed, who said the production of the fleshy chicken costs 13.5 Sudanese pounds, in average.  The Manager of the Arab Poultry Production and Processing, Jaafer Abdul Rahim, said chicken production is 16 Sudanese pounds, which he said, is the highest cost, internationally. He called upon the state to contribute to lowering the cost by refraining from imposing multiple fees and making foreign currencies available at acceptable rates.

 

The Production Manager of Sair Poultry Company said a chicken kilogram ranges from 16 to 17 pounds while Abdulla Saeed stated that many poultry companies, which are members of the Poultry Chamber, fix a unified marketing price. These statements on the high cost of poultry production have defeated our premise that some people make exorbitant wealth at the expense of other people. We have therefore begun a new investigation to either confirm or rescind the other assumption. 

Numerous, grave problems:

A veterinarian in charge the poultry sector in a government institution who preferred anonymity stated that the poultry industry and trade suffer numerous grave problems, especially for the small investors and producers who lack the necessary requirements, -particularly with regards to the slaughtering and disposal of the perished chickens. He noted that there is a tremendous amount of information that remains uninvestigated or unconfirmed due to the difficulty of the process.

He said the problems being faced by the poultry sector also include the illegal slaughtering, sale of perished chickens, failure of getting rid of the harmful remains, especially the blood which offers a dangerous environment for bacteria and selling parts that are inconsistent with the specifications such as the legs and harmful intestines in addition mingling the bad chickens with good ones as a form of deception.  Many farms slay chickens after treating them with antibiotics and other medicines and before allowing the birds’ time to dispose of the medicines in their bodies, thus the antibiotics adversely affect the consumers and eliminate their natural resistance.

 

The garbage Area:

Predatory birds used to hover over or around the garbage near the Arab Poultry Production and Processing farms in Khartoum’s southern suburbs. The vultures were not alone; there are also people who move around the garbage and pick up such things as empty plastic containers and others who serve food and water to the frequenters of the garbage. Just beside the garbage there are pits where the company throws the perished chickens which are difficult to dispose of in some other way. The international rate of perishability is between 3% and 5%, though this rate may go up where there are environmental problems, according specialists who add that the rate gets higher in bigger poultry farms.

Owners of the small poultry farms do not have the means for getting rid of the perished chickens and therefore they just dump them out of the fences, offering chances for ill-mannered individuals to pick and sell them, particularly if they are of a big size. In some cases they are collected by the homeless who happen to pass by.

 

The Manager of the Arab Poultry Production and Processing Company said: “We have two pits for burying the perished chickens but we suffer from the garbage area because the dead chickens are sometimes taken away by some frequenters for sale in outlying markets while the pens of the company are near the vast garbage area.

“All efforts by the Company for improving the environment have failed and so have its efforts for closing the garbage area due to overlapping administrative powers in the State.”

 

 The veterinarian in charge of the sector said the perpetrators of those crimes are encouraged by the ineffective legal punishments which are inconsistent with the resulting harm, as the punishment is in some cases are as low as one month in jail and a 100-pound fine and is not deterrent.

 

Does the imported chick fodder contain harmful items?

 

Expert Abdulla Saeed suspected the imported fodders even though he admitted observing remarkable results of astonishing growth of the chicks in addition to a positive recommendation by a visiting team of experts. Yet, he is not sure whether or not those fodders contain hormones as they have not conducted any tests as it is the duty of the Standards Department to verify the consistency of imports but, according to the veterinarian, there are no specialized laboratories.

He added that all poultry companies and farms import fodders for chicks of which each chick is fed 100 grams during its first five days to weigh 70 grams. Local fodder cakes are mixed with concentrated imported fodder which contains salts and vitamins and is served to chicks of 8-18 days of age, then to grown-up chicks between 18-35 days when a chicken is slain.

The veterinarian said, during his work in the Company, they used to get rid of the sick chickens by burning them after it was found that there were some people who collect the dead chickens, cut them into pieces and sell them. At present, he went on, the poultry companies and farms do not bother about burning the sick chickens or burying the remains of the slain ones. He cited a case in which a well-known poultry company was involved when inhabitants of east of the Nile district filed a complaint against the owners of the poultry farm about the stinking smell of the decomposing remains.

 

Commercial fraud

 

The proprietors of the poultry production companies agreed that there was commercial fraudulence being practiced in the process of marketing the small farms produce which is wrapped in bags with the emblems of the big companies and for the price of the big companies although the production cost of the small farms in low. Abdulla Saeed and Mohamed Ali Ahmed say there are people who sell the empty bags of the big companies with their emblems to owners of the small farms are not committed to the specifications.

The Manager of the Arab Poultry Production and Processing Company said when he was once visiting an outskirt residential quarter of Omdurman; he noticed a shop with a sign carrying the name of the Arab Company and bought chickens from that shop and later discovered that the chickens were slain in an illegal way, incompatible with the technical specifications and wrapped in bags carrying the name of his Company. In spite of his lodging a lawsuit to the judiciary authorities and the Consumer Protection Association, the bureaucratic procedures obstructed his efforts for putting an end to this fraudulence.

Several Surprises:

 

The issue required from our part paying numerous and repeated visits at different times to all suburban markets of the three cities of the capital and met the merchants and importers who work in the poultry sector in those markets, in addition to the consumers. Absence of health supervision was obvious in those markets, particularly the dirtiness and the sale in conditions quite incompatible with the specifications of keeping and storing this commodity, even moving it from the production area to the market in vehicles with refrigerators but, instead, covering the commodity with ice. The commodities will then be distributed in plastic bags to the retailers who tend to present them to the consumers, with the intestines and legs piled, uncovered on benches under swarms of houseflies. In the private shops, chickens are presented uncovered to make the consumers aware of their existence.   

 

To our surprise, we found several places in Khartoum North poultry markets where chickens are cooked and grilled and put in big cartons which we understood are taken to big restaurants around the city. Our surprise was because those big restaurants have their own kitchens and make the cooking in response to the desire of the customer. We were also surprised that a yellow or golden color taken from small plastic bags is added to the chicken just before putting it on fire to give an attractive facade. This small bag contains a very little amount of the color but is enough for roasting up to 20 chickens. We do not know whether this material improves the taste or size or otherwise and whether or not it is approved by the Standards Department. When he was asked to give us one of those small bags, the cook apologized that they ran out.

Craving for Meat pushes to eating marrow:

 

This Sudanese proverb applies to many consumers as we have noticed in a market of those suburban residential quarters that the chicken’s roasted legs and heads trade flourishes greatly and those parts are sold in restaurants and on the roadside as well.

 

Consumption of the chicken limbs is widespread in a neighborhood south of Khartoum and many restaurants go to the poultry farm to reserve quantities of them as their soup is tasty to the consumers who prefer the chicken neck, in particular, according to dealers.

 

Mohamed Mohi al-Dinn Sidahmed, a supplier of chicken limbs to a Khartoum market said: “I deal in this job since the 1980s. We bring big quantities of necks, legs, fat, hearts and kidney every day to this market which is the biggest market that deals in the chicken parts   and which supplies other markets with this commodity. We wash the leftovers after purchasing them from the company to make sure that they are clean.”  

Safa’a and Nawal sisters deal in this limb trade in a Khartoum suburb market. They say they buy 15 kilograms of this commodity from the chicken market, prepare and cook them with their mother’s assistance and sell them in the nearby Koran school to children, sometimes to adults, for 1 pound roasted piece, making a good profit.

 

A veterinarian, who preferred to be identified only by his initials (N.A.), commented that the chicken legs are not harmful but contradict the taste and instinct, just like eating cattle or sheep hide. Though, he added chicken legs could be harmful because they may pick diseases and pass them over to the consumer. 

The Sudanese standards for fresh and cold chickens provide for cleaning the slain chicken immediately after the slaying process and removing the feather, all the intestines, the legs and the head. The slain chicken or its parts are wrapped and packaged immediately after the cooling. It is imperative to abide by health rules throughout the entire stages.

We were also surprise a small chicken weighing only 400 grams, that is, less than one quarter of the ordinary weight and sold for four pounds. We could not understand the secret behind this small size; has it ceased growing or not fed the standard fodder?

 

Suspicion v Certainty:

Our tour has not resulted in getting a proof for the sale of rotten chickens or ones injected with harmful hormones but, still, were continued our investigation. During our visits to the markets we posed as potential buyers and when we started asking questions about the commodity, we explained that we were journalists. At first, the visits were during daytime, and then we switched to evenings after someone told us that the rotten chickens were usually brought at night because of the relaxed supervision at that time.

After a near-stoppage of our visits to those markets, we once paid a visit such a market in Khartoum for shooting more photos. Either fortunately or unfortunately, we found busy selling operations in a shop for selling chickens and parts of chickens. We thought we had stumbled on what we were looking for and bought what serve our purpose.

 

We had a deep breath upon entering the vast Soba veterinary laboratory, thinking we had at last reached our goal. Soba laboratory possesses equipment and systems that help in conducting all veterinary research and studies not only in the Sudan, but also in the Arab and African regions. It consists of various sections and units, including one specialized in poultry research. One of its most important sections is the isotope section where tests on hormones and other microscopic materials are conducted.

 

Hormones:

Yes. The laboratory test we carried out showed the existence of hormones in the chicken samples. This was confirmed by Dr. Aisha Abbas, the head of the Isotope Section of National Laboratory for Veterinary Research in Soba. She welcomed our visit and the reportage we were conducting, noting that the problems surrounding the poultry industry require extensive research for the sake of the vast investment. The growing chicken consumption by the Sudanese people requires constant follow-up and provision of the information the consumers need. She said the poultry sector faces many practices harmful to the consumer the most harmful of which is the injection of chickens with unauthorized hormones which are harmful to humans. However, Dr. Abbas added that the laboratory had previously carried out a similar test that had shown scientific facts that could serve as a proof for the presence in the samples of two hormones – Methyl Testostone and Estradiol. These two hormones cause obscenity, excessive weight and abortion for women and making men’s voice smooth. She said the laboratory always welcomes such investigations and is always willing to conduct the required tests, adding that, even though the laboratory is fully furnished with all the needed equipment but is presently lacking in the materials needed for examination of the hormones and bacteria because those materials are so expensive to import. When asked whether we could contribute, she said they cost thousands of pounds.

Dr. Abbas explained that the remains of the medicines and other prohibited materials in the poultry fodder and other animal products which are incompatible with the international or Sudanese standards posed the greatest danger the consumer may face. A specific duration of time must pass after treatment of the chickens so that they could dispose of the traces of the medicines before taking them to the market, though she said this is not observed in many cases. 

 

   Dr. Yusuf Hussein Abdulla, the biochemist in the National Laboratory, said the main problem that faces the Sudanese consumer in dealing with the animal products is the misuse of the veterinary medicines and insecticides in general.

“What worsens the matter further is the market economy, there are no specific medical prescriptions and no tight control by the concerned authorities, beside the fact that most of the animal breeders, including the poultry, in the Sudan are illiterate who cannot apply the directions and precise medical prescriptions, especially the set doses,” Dr. Abdulla said.

He explained that many medicines may not be embargoed but should be taken in specific doses as an overdose could be risky. This happens frequently and may be one of the main reasons for the spread of cancer, renal failure, sensitivity, infertility for both genders, etc. (all these are documented cases and we are presently working on confirming them through isotope laboratory examination).

Different harms:

Dr. Musalem al-Amir, an economist, says that many commodities in the market are lacking the minimum quality standards; most of those commodities are imported. “Who permitted entry of those commodities in the first place?” he wondered. 

There are numerous commodities incompatible with the specifications, yet there is considerable demand for them, Dr. Amir said wondering: What is behind this demand? In reply to his question, the economist indicated three reasons the first of which is ignorance by the consumer of these commodities and the risks they pose in addition to his unawareness of the consequences of purchasing them and sometimes he is aware of the risks but has no other alternatives.

The indifference by both importers and exporters to marketing a commodity that is incompatible with the specifications is due to the poor quality control at the border customs posts, etc. The incompatibility of the commodities with the standards and the different prices of the same commodity that financially harms the consumer who pays money for a commodity that differs from what he wants in addition to the physical and psychological damage caused by such a commodity. The national economy is also adversely affected because the cheap imported commodities fill the market at the expense of the local products, leading to the closure of many factories and consequently to armies of unemployed people who lose their jobs in those factories. 

 

Dr. Yassir Mirghani, Secretary-General of the Consumer Protection Association, says the Standards and Measurements Department and the Customs Department are equally blamed for the double standards of the food supplies, including chickens. Those departments should lay down the highest quality standards in view of the country’s high temperature that spoils foods and drugs.

Dr. Mirghani says the consumer is conscious of his rights but it is for the control and judiciary authorities to discharge their duties as the responsibility must be shouldered by all individuals and institutions of the community. He calls for unification of all control authorities into a sovereign central organ in addition to formulation of a federal, rather than a state, law for protection of the consumer all over the Sudan.

Dr. Mirghani stresses that the commodities double standards lead to negative economic and material effects in addition to social disadvantages of dividing the community into classes based on the quality of the commodities, with one class enjoying high quality commodities and the other gets low quality ones.

 

In response to a question whether anyone has complained to the Association about any harm he has experienced, Dr. Mirghani said there were many complaints but did not take the form legal actions. He said the laws are sound and consistent but are not activated, beside the Sudanese culture that averts legal complaints against individuals.

He indicated as an important inlet for the entry of the commodities which are incompatible with the standards the smuggling and border trade operations. We should work together for strengthening the authorities in charge of controlling the standards so that we can help the community and the consumer avoid taking rotten foods and commodities.

Can the giant be forced back in its bottle?

Dr. Musalem believes that it is possible to overcome this dilemma and guarantee the provision of good services and high quality commodities to all individuals of the community for protecting the rights of the consumers. This, Musalem went on , could be accomplished by strengthening the Standards and Measurements Department furnishing it with all necessary physical and highly qualified human personnel. Moreover, the private sector should import commodities compatible with a list of the Standards Department and if the imports were not compatible with the provisions of the list which he would be possessing, he, alone, would bear the resulting loss.

Dr. Musalem added that the Consumer Protection Association is an important organization for protecting the consumer and the community against rotten and faulty commodities. This Association has to play a considerable role for raising awareness of the consumer with the harm of those commodities and his adherence to the set standards.

For his part, the Secretary-General of the Consumer Protection Association (CPA) demanded that the Standards Department to avoid favoritism and interference in the work of the technicians, respect its resolutions, keep off influential officials and impose law on all people. He stressed that all laboratories thoroughly verify all foods and supplements as, he pointed out, there are some international companies do not sell some of their food and medicinal products in their countries of origin, producing some commodities for importation only, describing those companies as “unrespectable”. 

Dr. Mirghani opines that poverty is behind the problem as he believes it drives some of the poor to purchase a cheap commodity for some markets or restaurants without being of the nature of that commodity or they are aware but ignorant of its subsequent risk. He said, in order that everyone, both poor and wealthy, enjoy eating this kind of meat, the government must sell subsidized sorghum to the poultry producers, as sorghum constitutes 75% of the chicken fodder, In this way, the companies will sell chickens at low prices, he said.

 

Dr. Yusuf Hussein Abdulla said the National Veterinary Research Laboratory of Soba is planning to establish a laboratory for measuring and identifying the hormone and medicinal remains in the animals, whether organic or bacterial. This laboratory will be financed by the international Atomic Energy Agency and is planned to identify the causes of different diseases, including cancers, renal failure, heart, etc. He said it would help them recognize the extent of the problem they are suffering from and determine the treatment.

The Information, first and foremost:

Availability of information always plays an important role in raising awareness of the consumer for purchasing the commodities he intends and also for uncovering the truth of each commodity and the soft points the state should address, said Dr. Musalem. Corruption, fraudulence and double standards occur due to lack of information and recognition of a problem means the beginning of working for its solution. It is not important to solve it in a short period of time but it is important to make the consumer and the community aware of it and will be solved in due course. The media has an important role to play in this connection, Dr. Musalem said.

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