BEIRUT: Industry Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan warned dairy plants that the use of natamycin, an anti-fungal agent, in labneh products was prohibited, urging them to abide by production standards or face closure.
Hajj Hasan made the warning Saturday during a news conference to address the issue after media reports revealed that traces of the banned substance were found in dairy products from at least two factories in the country.
“I have issued a warning to the owners of all the dairy factories in Lebanon to abide by the standards regarding the production of labneh, under the penalty of closure without prior warning,” Hajj Hasan said.
According to the decision, the ministry asked all the municipalities to provide it with the names of all functioning dairy factories within their jurisdictions.
Natamycin, also known as pimaricin and sometimes sold as Natacyn, is a naturally occurring substance produced during fermentation by bacteria found in soil. In the European Union, it is only approved as a surface preservative for certain cheeses and dried sausage products and should not be detectable below 5 millimeters from the surface.
In 2009, the European Food Safety Authority reaffirmed the use of certain levels of natamycin for surface treatment of cheese.
“Several Lebanese factories have decided, without informing us, to use this preservative in its products, and this is against the law,” Hajj Hasan said.
“The dairy factories have suffered financial losses due to the media frenzy [surrounding the issue of natamycin]. A mistake has been committed and we will correct it. The media should help us to reform dairy production, not destroy it,” he added.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 24, 2014, on page 4.