Wheat Flour Used in Iranian Bakeries Contains Dirt and Sand, Head of Food Agency Says

By Roshanak Astaraki

Some 700,000 tons of wheat flour used by bakeries in the country every year, with an estimated retail value of $237 million, consists mostly of dirt, sand, gravel and bran (husk), according to the director of the Federation of Iranian Food Association, Mohammad Reza Mortazavi. The problem results from widespread corruption related to the government’s guaranteed-purchase plan for wheat, according to Mortazavi.

“In the past three years, we have asked the Minister of Agricultural Jihad [Mahmoud Hojjati] several times to tackle the rampant corruption associated with the guaranteed-purchase scheme for wheat, but nothing has been done about it,” Mr. Mortazavi was quoted by the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) as saying. “Factories must use the standard [vibrating] 2.20 sieve-screen [effective area of metal or vinyl mesh] to separate the waste material including dirt, sand, and gravel from the wheat. However, to cover up their illegal activities, those in charge allow the use of non-standard 2.2 sieves which do not separate the waste material from the wheat.”

“Unfortunately, a business mafia has manipulated the guaranteed-purchase plan to its advantage,” Mortazavi noted, “We have warned the authorities about this widespread corruption to no avail. We know that the farmers are not at fault. The traders who buy the wheat from the farmers and sell it to the government control the operation. We suspect some senior managers to be involved in the operation.”

“For the past three years, the Minister of Health and Medical Education [Hassan Ghazizadeh Hashemi] and the director of the National Standards Organization [Nayereh Pirouzbakht] have been stressing the health hazards posed by contaminated wheat,” Mortazavi said. “The minister of Agriculture Jihad has, however, ignored their warnings.”

On August 22, the Prosecutor for the northeastern province of Golestan Hadi Hashemian said the police had arrested the manager and several employees of the leading grain silo storage facilities in the Gonbad Kavus County.

“The network has been operating for more than a month,” Mr. Hashemian was quoted by the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) as saying. “We have seized 200 tons of contaminated wheat, impounded 13 trucks, and arrested nine people so far. The authorities also raided a chicken farm and seized 1,000 sacks of bran, dirt and animal feces. They were mixing the wheat with the waste at that location. Police also arrested the owner of the farm.”

“The contaminated wheat has been destroyed,” Hashemian added. “The investigation into identifying other members of this [criminal] network continues.”

[Translated from Persian by Fardine Hamidi]