BEIRUT: Lebanon’s health minister Monday referred findings of natamycin use in labneh production to the state prosecutor and called for those responsible for the practice to be brought to justice.
Health Minister Wael Abu Faour demanded that the prosecutor’s office “hold accountable those the investigation reveals were responsible and take the necessary judicial measures against them,” according to a ministry statement.
“The use of natamycin, which dairy plants admitted to adding, is against the standard specifications set by Lebanon,” it said, adding that although natamycin was used in some countries for surface treatment of cheese, the agent “should not be mixed with labneh.”
Last week, media reports that natamycin traces had been found in labneh products from at least two factories caused uproar over what is only the most recent in a series of food-related health scares to sweep the country.
The ministry statement said laboratory test results from UFAG, a prominent international laboratory based in Switzerland, indicated that milk products from Dairy Khoury and Dairy D both contained traces of natamycin.
Natamycin, also known as pimaricin and sometimes sold as Natacyn, is a naturally occurring substance produced during fermentation by bacteria found in soil.
In its statement, the ministry said there were no published studies on the public health effects of using natamycin at the levels found in the labneh, including on children.
The prosecutor’s office is expected to launch an investigation into the case soon and to issue requests to summon officials from the two dairy plants.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 25, 2014, on page 4.