Flour with harmful substances imported into Kurdistan Region, claims KRG agriculture minister

Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani and Minister of Agriculture Begard Talabani at Qaiwan flour mill opening. Sep 19, 2021. (file)

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SULAIMANI — The day that a new flour mill opened near Sulaimani city, Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Minister of Agriculture Begard Talabani claimed that contaminated flour had been imported into the Kurdistan Region and that the Council of Ministers has established a task force to investigate, but offered few concrete details.

"According to medical reports, the flour brought into the Kurdistan Region contains a deadly substance that is used to change the flour’s color to white,” Talabani claimed on Sunday during the opening of the Qaiwan Group-owned mill in Bazian, which was also attended by KRG Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani, both members of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).

NRT inquired with the agriculture ministry and other officials to learn more about the alleged importation of contaminated flour.

According to a post on Minister Talabani’s Facebook page, the flour at issue was "very weak in nutrients” and that the "beneficial gluten, glutamine, and enzymes” had been removed and replaced with other substances "that are a threat to the human body.”

It added that there were other substances used in the bleaching process that were harmful and claimed that this had been shown through laboratory tests, but did not identify the alleged substances by name.

In follow-up questions by NRT, the ministry’s Director of Marketing and Communications Hiwa Ali was unable to say how long the imports had been going on, in what quantities, or who was responsible, responding to the last question by saying only that it had occurred within the private sector and that the investigation was ongoing.

Neither the statement or Ali explained why the announcement of the investigation into the alleged contamination was timed to coincide with the opening of the new mill, which owned by a company closely connected with the PUK.

Head of Sulaimani Health Preventive Directorate Rizgar Ali, whose agency is responsible for quality control of goods entering the governorate, said that he had no information about the issue and referred NRT to the Ministry of Agriculture.

Calls to the KRG Council of Ministers to inquire about the task force and its investigation were not returned by press time, nor were calls to the Sulaimani Chamber of Commerce and Industry to ask about the imports.

Quality control of imported products into the Kurdistan Region, which is largely reliant on goods from abroad, is a major problem. Officials routinely seize shipments of rotten and expired food, destroying them before they reach the market.

The opening of the new flour mill is part of a push by the KRG to reduce reliance on flour imports and to support local wheat farmers.

Bread is a staple of the Kurdish diet. It is sold widely from local bakeries that largely use imported flour, the price of which has increased in recent months following the devaluation of the Iraqi dinar last winter.

Both the PUK and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) have significant influence over trade goods entering the Kurdistan Region. Any goods entering the Region must pass through customs and quality checks managed by agencies controlled by the parties.

(NRT Digital Media)