Within the EU, RASFF- the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed is a key tool to ensure the flow of information across borders to swiftly react when risks to public health are detected in the food chain. As a result of this exchange of information, products can be recalled from the market, if they violate health standards.
Recently, Bülent Şık, a food engineer from Turkey came across an article about 164 tons of lemons that were sent back from Greece to Turkey due to a very high amount of pesticide residues being detected. While tracing the fate of those returned lemons within Turkey, Şık made an extensive analysis on RASFF facts about Turkey and found that the “lemon case” was not an exception (See below graphic for a distribution of RASFF records for the period 2002-2016, indicating the number of samples containing pesticides). According to the RASFF records for the period January-October 2016, within the last three months the residue of a pesticide called Chlorpyrifos for example, was found 14 times in various export lots, and the products in question were returned to Turkey. Although the use of Chlorpyrifos, which causes problems in the hormonal system, especially in those of infants and children, is forbidden in Turkey since April 2016, the records revealed that the amount of Chlorpyrifos discovered in several products, especially in lemon and paprika exported to EU states exceeds the allowed upper limit by 40-50 times. Another example is the very hazardous chemical Methamidophos. In 2002 in almost all food products analyzed in Turkey the residues of this pesticide - which was permitted to be used in cotton and tobacco production only – was discovered. The discovery eventually led not only to a serious export crisis between the EU and Turkey, but resulted in a ban on its domestic use. However, according to RASFF records from July 2016, in Turkish paprika exported to Bulgaria, residues of Methamidophos were found - implying that despite the ban of certain chemicals they are still used. The most terrifying levels of pesticides found in goods exported to the EU were detected in vine leaves. Related RASFF records since 2014 reveal that the number of pesticides in those goods varies between 4 and 18. It is horrifying, Şık says, that one single food sample contains residues of 18 different pesticides. Furthermore, it is not only the number of various pesticides that exceeds acceptable numbers, but also that the amount of each single pesticide surpasses any reasonable and “legal” limits.
Coming back to the question Şık intended to answer, his research reveals that the “journey” of those products within Turkey is a mystery: The Ministry for Food, Agriculture and Husbandry has not answered the question, whether these products have been disposed after being returned from Greece or if they have been sold in Turkey. In addition to the fact that public authorities in Turkey are far from being transparent and accountable, the fact that issues such as public and environmental health are excluded from the political agenda, are factors that Şık lists as the basic reasons behind this negative picture.