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Illegal sacred water targeted at Muslim community

Stuart Spear15/06/2017 - 12:58

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Fake ZamZam water found by Saudi authorities
Fake ZamZam water found by Saudi authorities

Local authorities are being urged to investigate Zam Zam water for sale in the UK over fears that potentially contaminated water is being sold illegally to Muslims through UK shops and Mosques.

The warning follows the recent discovery by Saudi authorities of illegal bottling plants in Saudi Arabia where criminal gangs bypass public health checks by producing fake and illegal Zam Zam water from unknown sources.

The trade is thought to generate vast profits for criminal gangs who then smuggle the water to meet a demand from the Muslim diaspora. There are public health concerns around the lucrative trade after previous sources on sale in the UK were found to be contaminated with nitrate and arsenic.

In the most recent raids across the Saudi Kingdom thousands of bottles of adulterated Zam Zam water have been destroyed while illegal refiling plants and stores have been closed down.

Zam Zam water should originate from a well in Mecca considered to be sacred by the Muslim community. Demand for the sacred water increases over the holy month of Ramadan and can be found for sale in Halal shops and Muslim bookshops despite it being illegal to export the bottled water for sale from Saudi Arabia.

While trade increases during Ramadan it can be found on sale in the UK all year round.

Genuine Zam Zam water is controlled by the Al-Zamazima Office in Saudi Arabia and is sent to public analysts to be tested for contamination.

While individuals are allowed to bring bottles back for individual use all Zam Zam water for sale in the UK is likely to have come from illegal sources due to export restrictions on the genuine article.

'Zam Zam is not allowed to be exported on a commercial basis so it cannot be sold, if it is then its authenticity is in doubt,' said Dr Shuja Shafi, former secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain and public health expert. 

The Food Standards Agency has in the past issued warnings to the Muslim community to avoid drinking Zam Zam because of the levels of arsenic and nitrates found in the water on sale in the UK and has called on local authorities to be alert to the potentially illegal trade.

Chartered CIEH member and Middle East public health consultant Dr Yunes Teinaz has urged local authorities to be vigilant and to take action when they come across suspect traders.

‘We believe the same contaminated water is still coming into the UK through the same historical smuggling routes and is for sale through the same Islamic outlets.

‘We urge local authorities to take swift action to take this water off the shelves and to prosecute the offenders because contaminated water with heavy metals such as arsenic mercury and nitrate is a carcinogenic and can also cause neurological damage and food poisoning,’ warned Dr Teinaz who first alerted UK authorities to the illegal trade over 10 year ago while working as an environmental health adviser to the London Central Mosque Trust and Islamic Culture Centre. 

A Foods Standards Agency spokesperson said: ‘Zam Zam water comes from a specific source in Saudi Arabia, and under their laws, cannot be exported for sale. Any water that is labelled as Zam Zam and sold in the UK is therefore of uncertain origin. We advise that people avoid drinking bottled water described or labelled as Zam Zam water. 

 ‘Tests have shown that Zam Zam water sold in the UK, or brought into the UK for personal consumption, may contain high levels of arsenic or nitrates, which is not safe to consume.’

Gangs are known to use smuggling routes to bring the water into the UK and then distribute it to Islamic books shops, Mosques and Halal shops nationally.

There appears to be a low level of awareness about the potential risks associated with drinking Zam Zam water within the Muslim community.

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