UMM AL QAIWAIN // When the men from the ministry came calling, the fishmongers of the emirate weren't using anything like enough ice to keep their wares cold - and they blamed a lack of water.
"The main problem is that there is not enough water supply here," Ibrahim Rashed, an economic inspector at the Ministry of Economy's UAQ office, said yesterday. "So it makes it hard for sellers at the fish market to keep icing their fish throughout the day when they bring it in before 6am."
The market's 10 stalls were showcasing hammour, subaiti, shrimps and red snapper, all exposed to the midday heat.
"They all need more ice or they won't remain fresh," said Dr Hashim Al Nuaimi, the ministry's head of consumer protection. "We must try to find a solution for this."
Al Muhait's emperor fish was sold at Dh15 a kilo while one piece of red snapper cost Dh4. Rashid Ebrahim's emperor was going for Dh10 a kilo - all good prices, said Dr Nuaimi, but all in need of more ice.
The two men visited the emirate's fish, meat, fruit and vegetable market on the Corniche yesterday as part of their tour of the country to monitor Ramadan food prices.
Most prices in the emirate appeared fair, and no licences were confiscated.
Hashim's tomatoes cost Dh2.50 each and Dh15 for a box. "He has some empty boxes on display that need to be removed," noted Dr Al Nuaimi.
Al Hassooni's dates bore no prices, prompting Dr Al Nuaimi to lecture their owner. "You must always show prices to the consumer, it's the law," he said.
As he examined Al Noor's fruit and vegetable scale, he said that, so far, UAQ prices were the most reasonable he had come across - and none more than Majed Al Hamad, the top seller in the emirate's market.
"We've known him since 2006", said Mr Rashed, "and he's constantly impressing us with the way he keeps his prices down, especially during Ramadan."
Mr Hamed sold a cabbage for Dh3, Dh5 for a kilo of peppers, Dh7 for a kilo of beans and Dh25 for a mango box.
Other stalls sported more reduced prices - Dh3 for a bag of garlic and Dh6 for a bag of lemons.
"The prices here are less than any other emirate," said Dr Dhiaalddin Saleh, a health inspector at the municipality. "Many people come from Dubai and Al Ain because we have the freshest produce."
Things were not quite as good at the meat market, with several vendors receiving warnings. Meat House showed no prices and Rahman Meat did not even own a sign with prices written down.
"He must have the type of meat, where it came from and whether it's frozen or fresh," said Dr Al Nuaimi.
After showing how prices should be displayed, Mr Rashed advised the seller to visit the ministry's local office for further advice.
Salman Meat welcomed Dr Al Nuaimi with a large piece of frozen meat dangling behind the door as the temperature reached about 20°C. "That frozen meat cannot be in warm temperature or it will get contaminated," Dr Al Nuaimi said.
"I'm still content with the prices here, I only gave out a few warnings but they were for minor problems," he added.
Mr Rashed will meet municipality officials on Sunday to create new price tags that display the origin of the meat, its price and date of production. The lack of ice would also be discussed, he said.
"We don't allow people to increase prices on their own," Dr Al Nuaimi. "We have to study their reasons for doing so first."
He said if shopkeepers marked up their prices for competitive reasons, they would be fined Dh5,000. So far, 85 fines have been given out to shops across the UAE due to price increase or complaints from customers.
"We want to improve the relationship between the consumer and the seller while controlling prices," said Dr Al Nuaimi.
He urged customers who had a complaint to call the ministry's consumer protection hotline on 600 522225 between 7.30am and 2.30pm, the ministry's UAQ office on 06 765 2200 or Mr Rashed on 06 766 4416.