NABATIEH, Lebanon: A local food safety program was launched in the southern city of Nabatieh Friday by Agriculture Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan and local officials, and which comes after a series of food contamination scandals in the city, some deadly.
The initiative was planned in collaboration with the Islamic Health Committee, which stressed the need to raise consumers’ confidence in food supplies across restaurants and supermarkets.
In a ceremony at the Kamel Youssef Social and Cultural Center in Nabatieh, a number of municipal staff received certification to become registered food safety monitors.
Officials from the Tourism Ministry and restaurant owners from Nabatieh joined Hajj Hasan in presenting the opportunities and challenges of having a local food safety program, after a series of parliamentary attempts at establishing an independent national committee on food safety have failed over recent years, due to political disputes between various ministries over who should handle the supervision.
Speaking at the launch, Hajj Hasan said that most of the scandals have been linked to corruption, cover for which has been provided for by politicians.
He added that food safety has suffered partly due to the lack of resources, and staff numbers, directed at the issue by the relevant ministries.
However he criticized those who are targeting the service sector in Lebanon on food safety scandals, saying that these campaigns will only lead to the bankruptcy of the country’s restaurants.
“Shall we close down all the restaurants in Lebanon, stop consuming meat and chicken and stop drinking water?”
Zuheir Berro, president of Consumers Lebanon, said that Lebanon was still far from the creation of a national food safety strategy.
“All the recent confiscations of spoiled food and the discovery that 84 percent of bottled water companies lack proper licensing ... indicate that Lebanon is still far from having a food safety program, because food is subject not to standards but to the interests of the traders.”
Berro added that his association had discovered corruption in staff recruitment processes, further jeopardizing health safety.
In one particular municipality, “of 40 people who were part of a monitoring team, only one had the correct certification and the others were hired on the basis of their relationship with the mayor and their political affiliations.”
Nada Sardouk, director general of the Tourism Ministry, warned that while the issue of food safety is a crucial one, it was also vital to avoid negative campaigns which dissuade customers from going to restaurants.
Hajj Hasan said that 90 percent of the restaurants open without the correct licensing, adding that the role of municipalities in this regard should be revamped.