BEIRUT: The air in Karantina has a decidedly ferrous tinge, which, in the summer, intensifies and spreads, carried on the wind throughout east Beirut. The stench from the public slaughterhouse hints at the alleged violations carried out within.
While the slaughterhouse has faced criticism for years, activists have renewed calls for its immediate closure.
A video released earlier this month by the U.K.-based animal welfare organization Compassion in World Farming shows Karantina staff prodding a visibly stressed cow as it slips repeatedly on a feces-covered floor. Sheep are dragged by their back legs to their deaths, and still-conscious cows are suspended over the slaughterhouse floor, waiting for their throats to be cut.
“Men grab defenseless sheep by the fleece or back leg,” reads the text accompanying the video. “They fall to their knees and are forcefully dragged, one by one, to the slaughter line. Cattle are dragged by ropes around their necks. When they try to resist restraint, they are yelled at and beaten viciously with metal rods.”
According to CIWF, the expose prompted nearly 100,000 people to email caretaker Agriculture Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan. Hajj Hasan, who vowed to renovate Karantina in 2012, did not respond to calls for comment on this article.
Activist and blogger Joey Ayoub visited Karantina last year and witnessed a similarly harrowing scene.
“Half of the animals were dead, half were dying or waiting to die,” the author of the Hummus for Thought blog told The Daily Star. A video recorded with a friend’s smart phone showed feral cats scampering around discarded viscera and the staff inciting the livestock into a panic for “for fun.”
Ayoub, who received a degree in public health from the American University of Beirut last spring, says that he and several classmates tried to release a report detailing abuses at the Karantina slaughterhouse soon after a class trip in 2012. In spite of faculty support, Ayoub was told that the university was facing immense pressure from politicians not to publish the findings, and Ayoub was asked to delay publishing until after he graduated to dissociate the findings from the institution. He has no idea which politicians were involved in the matter and plans to publish his findings in the coming days.
Having heard reports condemning the conditions at the Karantina slaughterhouse, The Daily Star visited during slaughtering hours, which begin at 8 p.m. sharp. There is no security at the gate, which is emblazoned with the Beirut Municipality seal.
Men smoked cigarettes outside as people casually meandered in and out of warehouse entrance. In the back, mangy dogs climbed mounds of organic waste. Broken windowpanes reflected the headlights of approaching cars.
The slaughterhouse is comprised of two main rooms: one for slaughter and another for carving the carcasses. Live animals are kept in semi-closed pens attached to the slaughter room but separated from it by a wall.
The dank slaughter room has several gutters and water spouts to flush out the animal blood. Still, the floor was caked with congealed blood where men were skinning a freshly killed cow. A wheelbarrow filled with entrails sat unattended nearby.
Passing through an egress with a bovine haunch over his shoulder, a worker delivered his load to a waiting butcher in the adjoining carving room. The meat, hung from hooks on the ceiling, was then carefully cleaved.
The slaughterhouse was abuzz with human activity, but the desperate brays of livestock being led to slaughter are noticeably absent.
There are decided lapses in hygienic standards, although The Daily Star did not witness any of the types of abuses featured in the CIWF video. It is unclear who works at the slaughterhouse and who is just stopping by. One man, Khaled, jots a note down in the accounts book, which is smudged with blood. When asked where the waste goes, he shrugged and offered a wry smile. “The planet! You can smell it!” he said, gesturing to waste heaps behind the stockyards.
According to activists, Karantina’s entire infrastructure requires retrofitting. The warehouselike space means it is possible that animals being led to slaughter could see the lifeless corpses of already killed beasts, something CIWF and other animal rights organizations strongly object to.
“It’s really just a big empty room with big gutters, and it’s the kind of environment that will cause a lot of stress,” said Pru Elliott of CIWF.
Karantina, said Elliot, needs better staff training, better protocols for checking to see if animals are conscious and better restraint methods.
There are also legal concerns. Lebanon, Elliott noted, is part of the World Organization for Animal Health, which requires member states to uphold certain animal welfare standards. In their investigation of Karantina, CIWF found “widespread breaches” of the group’s protocols, including what Elliot called a systematic failure to properly lead animals to slaughter.
Both Ayoub and Elliott doubt that the conditions in the slaughterhouse are halal, as it claims.
One of the conditions of halal meat is that the animal should feel minimal pain. At Karantina, however, Khaled wields his knife and proudly proclaims that the slaughter is in keeping with religious codes.