Kılıç, who lived outside Turkey for many years of his life, is very wary when it comes to the food he and his family eat. For example, while his wife, Fatma, makes the yoghurt they consume, the Kılıç family also only eats the meat from the animals they sacrifice at bayrams. As Kılıç asserts, “Our stomachs are vessels that God has granted us, and they cannot be filled with just anything.”
Kılıç, who says he has never forgotten the saying “A bite of something haram [religiously prohibited] takes 40 days to leave the body,” adds: “We have raised five children. We have never, ever fed them any bite of food whose origins we did not know, and whose contents we were not familiar with. As friends of God have noted before, a bite of something unknown has the power to change, spiritually, both our days and our nights.” And to wit, this family buys no food without thoroughly reading the labels and researching the ingredients.
Many people who head out shopping do not in fact read the labels of what they are purchasing. And this being the case, many producers of foods that are clean, healthy and halal do not actually receive the support they need. Because even though they are spending more on producing, and thus charging more for these services, the customers, with their lack of awareness, are not reading labels, and thus these are brands that often do not have staying power in the market.
There are even special “trackable product” food production labels these days that allow customers, if they are so disposed, to follow electronically just how it is that their products have made it to the table. But when customers do not even read ingredients, it is also quite likely that they are not using these electronic systems either. Islamic law expert Saffet Köse notes that the Qur’an orders people to eat clean and halal foods, while nutrition and diet expert Hayrettin Mutlu says that reading label contents is very important from the perspective of weight control and health in general. Referans Gıda General Manager Salih Ünal, for his part, says that, compared to labeling systems in Europe, the practice is full of deficiencies in Turkey, where customers also seem less interested. Ünal notes that school age children need to be taught about consuming foods and reading labels, and that customers in general need to be better educated through public education
Some important changes led to the establishment of the Turkish Food Codex Labeling Directorate in February. According to the changes, labels must now include the name of the food, a list of ingredients, any allergenic ingredients, the number of ingredients, the net weight of the food itself, the final possible date of consumption, guidelines for storage of the food, the names and addresses of the producer-distributor-importer, the management recording number, the country of origin, rules for usage, amount of alcohol (if over 1.2 percent), and the production and batch numbers and any other special notes necessary.
What sort of labeling?
The labeling system used in Europe is very detailed. All products need to have labels that include charts of ingredients and information per either 100 grams or 100 milliliters. When it comes to meat products, labels must say what the country of origin is. When a product contains meat from a variety of sources mixed together, consumers must receive even more detailed information. On labels for meat products, consumers are provided with information as to where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered. If all three of these locales are the same, then this is recorded as “country of origin.” Another important rule is that foods which are potentially allergenic to some have the relevant ingredients listed in bold lettering, with warnings for consumers printed on the label. Even more importantly, supermarkets are required to hang large signs listing potentially allergenic ingredients. In other words, consumers receive information not only from the labels but also from other sources around them. Since 1997, consumers in Europe have also been informed about foods that are genetically modified (GM) -- derived from genetically modified organisms (GMO). The word “natural,” which we are so used to hearing in advertisements for many foods, can only be used in a very controlled and limited manner in Europe. The whole “aroma identical to that found in nature” advertising concept has been eliminated in Europe. Guidelines surrounding foods sold to consumers in Europe are defined by the European Food Security Authority (EFSA), which then sends them to the European Commission for approval.
Labels vital for health and weight control
Mutlu, a nutrition and diet expert, says: “An experienced consumer must absolutely read the label of a ready-packaged food he or she is buying for the first time. Knowing the amounts per 100 grams of carbohydrates, fat and protein of this food gives the consumer very important information. In terms of weight control, label reading is also very important. Also, any salt or elements such as monosodium glutamate which have been added must be listed on the label. For people with high blood pressure, finding out the sodium levels listed on labels is vital, as high levels of sodium can affect blood pressure. As for ready-packaged food products consumed by children, mothers and fathers need to be reading these labels carefully, too.”
Attention to detail by the consumer pushes companies to be more careful as well
According to İtina Gıda General Manager Yusuf Karaduman, “When we buy food products, we need to look out for companies which provide labels that list dates of production and last date of consumption, that these things are listed in a visible and easy to read manner, that the company is an incorporated one, that it respects people’s religious and health needs, that you as a consumer are able to track where products have come from. The increasing sensitivity on the part of consumers and the tendency to question or challenge where foods come from pushes companies which produce food to act in a more careful manner.”