No one knows since when, exactly, they have been downing donkey curry instead of the beef curry they ordered at a restaurant, or BBQ, made with neatly cut donkey meat , served with a chilli garlic dip or mustard sauce. Maybe we would never have found out, had it not been for the commendable job done by the Punjab Food Authority .

The Punjab Food Authority taped nauseating and disturbing footage of the kitchens and pantries of these restaurants, which exposed their reality. These well-reputed restaurants were serving dishes made out of stale vegetables, meat which had not been purchased from authorised slaughterhouses (hence labelled dubious, and in many cases dishes made out of boneless and minced meat were actually made out of donkey meat). The restaurants also used expired items for the purpose of garnishing. The condition of their storage facilities and deep freezers was bad enough to make one nauseous – the sights astonished everyone. Deep freezers had not been washed since a long time and they became smelly and their base was covered by a layer of fungus.

Virginia Woolf, in her essay, ‘A Room of One's Own’ rightly affiliated the dependence of many pleasurable experiences with a satisfying square meal by saying, “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” She failed to inform us whether or not her verdict is equally applicable in cases where the meal is stale, expired, or, even worse, contains the meat of a donkey.

The worst part is that you cannot trust anyone anymore in this regard and that there is hardly any exception left. From a street food vendor, to a restaurant that specializes in Italian cuisine, donkey meat has been used by restaurants of all ranks and classes. And in some cases, it was discovered that dead animals were also given the opportunity to fill your nostrils with a tempting aromatic smell. Many trusted national and international brands made it to the list, filling people with the idea that if such brands can deceive us then it is very easy to imagine the conditions of lesser-known food outlets.

Orhan Pamuk recalls what his mother used to say when he would avoid eating food cooked at home and preferred to eat a frankfurter shawarma from a street vendor of Taksim square: ‘With great disgust, she had declared the minced meat in these Frankfurters to be from unknown parts of unknown animals.” 

Just a couple of weeks ago, the police raided a warehouse-like compound in Chiniot, where two brothers were busy mincing meat on a large electrical grinding machine. Police searched the building and found many donkey hides, cleaned and dried, stored safely inside. Both the brothers were brought to the local police station and during the interrogation, they confessed that they had been conducting this business since a very long time and they sell donkey meat to local restaurants on a very cheap price.

Another incident was reported from Sargodha recently. Abdullah Khurram, the commissioner of Sargodha, raided a building, where pig and donkey meat was being chopped up and stored in freezers, to be supplied later. Once, we used to come across such news very seldom, but now the number of such cases has reached a startling level.

Every once in a while police seize a large amount of donkey meat , and this whole seizure does not even constitute five percent of the meat prepared to be supplied.

Different estimates and figures of this crestfallen business are upsetting. It was recorded during the year 2013-2014 that 59,634 donkey hides, worth 44 million were exported from the country, and in 2015, the next year, the figure of donkey hides exported was 129,898, worth 144million – more than double of the previous year.

Lately, a meeting was held at the Prime Minister House in which the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) decided to put a ban on the export of donkey hides, till provinces find a proper solution to dispose of the carcases. It should be clear that in the international market, the price of donkey hide is almost 18,000 PKR, more than any other animal hide can fetch. Pakistan has the second largest population of donkeys in the world.

Indeed it is shocking to see how heartless people are: mean and aloof from the havoc they are playing with the health of the public. Apart from being completely devoid of moral values, it seems as if they have no fear of the law, either. They are excessively familiar with the loopholes that our system very generous provides for them to exploit. During the raids conducted by the police and the Punjab Food Authority officials, with the media accompanying them, it has been noted clearly that the culprits have a very daring body language. They are not apologetic in the very least, have very calm facial expressions, staring you in the face. The reason is that they know that when the cameras will leave, ensuring that they are taken to police station where they are arraigned under the sections which apply, it will take only a few thousand to make their way out.

In many cases when fine slips were handed to the owners of the restaurants and international food chains, the amount was a piece of comedy in itself. It also gave them another reason to continue with their abominable ambitions of feeding people expired food products and donkey meat . What can possibly happen if they get caught again? Another fine will be handed to them? Well, that is not an issue anymore – in fact, it is more like an official bribe, pay it after a month or two and get scot free.

There is a dire need to check and put an end to all the possible loopholes which might be benefiting those who commit such heinous crimes. A new, amended, and sterner food act can hopefully rectify this problem.