Turkey is known for its rich as well as original cuisine. As being one of the country’s most consumed groceries, bread is essential for all of the daily meals from a quick breakfast to a leisurely dinner with a glass of Rakı. In fact, bread, and only bread is the only nourishment material for a considerable amount of the population. Often you will find bags of bread left out on walls or hanging from gates as the rich give them away to the poor.
Recently something disturbing has happened, not only for those who love Turkish food but also for the eco- and health-minded ones. For the first time in Turkish history, genetically modified organisms (GMO) have reportedly been found in bread in the southern province of Adana. According to Turkish regulations, it’s strictly forbidden to use GMO in human food. Since the cultivation is not allowed, it can only enter the country in order to be used as pet food.
But recently, a food engineer from Adana contacted daily Hürriyet with news about a local bakery which he blamed to have used soy products with GMO for their bread. After the newspaper reported about it, investigations were launched into the case. Speaking about the allegations, the owner of the company in question said they had sold the product to 80 percent of the bakeries in Adana. The GMO soy was found in the bread’s preservatives that are produced by his company. Hürriyet sent it to a test center for examination, which proved the allegations correct. According to the report, “GMO was found in all three gene areas”.
The Turkish restrictions towards manipulated organisms in food are very strict since the distrust of the consumers as well as political decision-makers in those materials is traditionally high. Currently, there are no GMO products approved for human consumption in Turkey and imported pet feed must be labeled accordingly, if its contents hold over 0.9 percent of GMO. Currently 32 corn and soy products are permitted into the country as feed for cattle, chicken, and fish. As people eat the meat of those animals, they will consume the GMO as well, critics say.
“We don’t know if the imported products are used in human food. Much better control is needed. However, checks are not effective in Turkey. There are 675.000 food businesses and 5.000 auditors. There are companies who are not subjected to checks for one year”, Özden Güngör, head of the Chamber of Agriculture Engineers told Hürriyet.
The incident opened up a debate in the national media, since GMO has for years been a highly discussed issue. GMO is defined by World Health Organization as “foods derived from organisms whose genetic material (DNA) has been modified in a way that does not occur naturally, e.g. through the introduction of a gene from a different organism.” Studies show that certain GMOs are potentially destructive not only to health, but also the kind of genetic diversity that underpins successful ecosystems. Therefore, a discussion about transparency, food security and control has been launched in Turkey. Questions are raised about the likelihood of similar incidents in other provinces as well as the regularity and reliability of those tests. A lot of them remained unanswered yet, as Yeşil gazete and Bianet coverage shows.