Friends and colleagues of Dr. Yunes Teinaz, an environmental health expert in the United Kingdom, have paid tribute to his life and work following his death this past month.
Born in Libya, he grew up in North Africa and came to the U.K. to study in the late 1970s. He recently became unwell and died in his late 60s.
Teinaz started as a trainee environmental health officer (EHO) at Colchester Borough Council in the early 1990s and his career until the late 2000’s included councils in Enfield, Wandsworth, Westminster, Waltham Forest, Haringey and Hackney. Afterward he managed his own environmental health consultancy practice.
He was best known for efforts to tackle fake halal meat and contaminated Zamzam water, which is taken from a well in Mecca and considered sacred by Muslims.
Media interest and death threats
Ruksana Shain, a fellow EHO, said she met Dr. Teinaz while representing mosque organizations to act as a bridge between the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and community.
“It was an instant rapport as we are both from the same professional background of environmental health,” she said. “We shared and felt an enormous sense of frustration over halal claims and the lack of transparency. He was always very respectful and full of passion, a real advocate for the profession and as a Muslim contributing to serve all.”
John Pointing, a semi-retired barrister with 25 years of experience in food and environmental health law, met him in 2003.
“He was a character that was larger than life. He was utterly single minded and determined to cut out crime and corruption in food. So fake halal, bushmeat and the way unfit meat was fed into the food chain. He used to talk about hot meat, which was illegally slaughtered ewes that were too old to be part of the human food chain but were passed through it by illicit traders,” he said.
“He made a lot of enemies as well as a lot of friends but he certainly got results. One of the reasons it was so easy for people to do the fraud was because they thought local authority officers don’t work after 5 or 6 o’clock so it was all done at 3 in the morning. But he would lay in waiting, with the police and arrest them.
“Yunes had a lot of interest in what he was doing. He became quite important as a national figure in the 2000s in promoting the issue. It was reported food criminals threatened to kill him and he got death threats in the early 2000s which was not surprising because he was effective.”
Bush meat, smokies and Zamzam water
The pair did many conference presentations on food crime in the U.K. and abroad and worked on publications including the Halal Food handbook, which was published earlier this year. Another issue of interest for them was smokies, made by blowtorching the skin of a sheep or goat for a chargrilled flavor.
“I think we prosecuted the first bush meat prosecution in this country which was a supplier that included gorilla meat mainly to West African rich diplomat types in London. Yunes was one of the first local authority officers to discover the trade in smokies from Welsh farms to London restaurants via Ridley Road market in Hackney which was in his borough,” said Pointing.
“With Zamzam water, Yunes found out the source of the water was contaminated. The halal issue was traders selling fake halal or adulterated meat. Some of the adulteration was with pork proteins so it is pretty offensive to Muslims to find out they were consuming it. Yunes did more than anyone around Hackney to stamp that out.
“I remember him telling me he was doing an inspection of a dodgy Chinese restaurant in Hackney. The leader of the council was among the punters having lunch and Yunes walks in, inspects the kitchen and sees they are tipping used cooking oil into the sewer, so he closes it and chucks all the punters out including the leader of the council.”
Dedicated and fearless
Stuart Spear, a friend and colleague, said he came across Yunes around 2000.
“I was working on a magazine called ‘Environmental Health News’ and he came to our attention because he was very firm in his belief that everyone should have the same protection in terms of food safety,” he said.
“He felt that the ethnic minority communities of London were being poorly served by the regulatory agencies and they had become targets for unscrupulous meat gangs that realized this was a soft touch as they would sell all sorts of stuff into the markets of London and halal shops because it tended to be territory that environmental health struggled with due to cultural differences. He became quite a champion of halal. He felt a lot of halal meat was not halal and was misrepresented.
“Yunes recognized there was a need for more activity on this front and he dedicated himself to it, he was quite fearless. I do know there were threats on his life but I don’t know how serious they were and he dismissed them, he was determined to protect the community from contaminated food.”
One Environmental Health News campaign was designed to stamp out food and meat crime and address the issue of illegal items getting into the food chain via London markets.
‘He wanted them to know he was watching’
Spear said some of this focused on smokies and a gang working out of Wales and serving the markets of London.
“Nobody really realized it was going on, it was just outside people’s sphere. They would sell them off the back of trucks coming to London or drop them off at shops but it was done at weekends in anticipation for the market and generally when EHOs are not working so it went under the radar and was slickly operated. Until Yunes came along and he became a real thorn in their side,” he said.
“I went out on stakeouts with him and he’d be up all night watching the gangs operate and he’d be out at weekends. Once we were on a roof of a building near Ridley Road market watching the smokies being delivered through the night but he was wearing a yellow tabard with environmental health on it which illuminated him and we realized they had spotted him. He just wanted them to know he was watching.”
As Yunes was Libyan and a Muslim he could connect easier with people in those parts of the community, said Spear.
“I would walk down Ridley Road market with him and he knew everyone by first name, he could speak their language and he gained a certain amount of respect as a consequence of it. He was also respected on the international scene. My memory of him is as a larger than life character and immovable once he decided on something. He was unconventional in the way he went about things and that difference is what made him so successful.”
Dr. Abdul Majid Katme, former president of the Islamic Medical Association in the U.K., said Teinaz was a great public health servant to the British community and once won an award for best Arab scientist serving the Arabic community in Europe.
“Dr. Teinaz worked tirelessly to clean up the shops and restaurants in Haringey and Hackney and in other places from any illegal or health hazard involving meat and food. He was sincere, uncompromising and was risking his life frequently,” he said.
“He cleaned up the non halal meat in many so-called halal shops. He fought strongly against the sale of sick and illegal animals in the market. He was instrumental and effective in the Muslim working group in the FSA. We believe that Dr. Teinaz should have been awarded a long time ago for his great public health services to the Muslim and non-Muslim British public.”
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