Lebanon News

Abu Faour battles on with food purges

Minister Wael Abu Faour speaks during a press conference in Beirut, Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014. (The Daily Star/Khalil Hassan)

BEIRUT: Health Minister Wael Abu Faour continued his fight against food safety violations Wednesday, by naming and shaming a new list of restaurants, slaughterhouses and butchers that have been found to be in violation of food safety standards.

“This is not an outburst, this is permanent policy,” Abu Faour told a news conference at the Health Ministry, referring to his recent decision to publically out eateries and shops that aren’t meeting standards.

Earlier this month Lebanon was rocked by Abu Faour’s announcement that some restaurants outside Beirut served food containing sewage and fecal matter.

Abu Faour added a number of other restaurants to the blacklist Wednesday, including branches of recognizable chains like KFC, Kababji and Harkous Chicken. A number of supermarkets were also named.

Abu Faour also addressed the issue of Lebanon’s slaughterhouses and described the at-times shocking conditions present at some facilities, while praising others for meeting the required standards.

Recent weeks have seen dozens of slaughterhouses closed – some temporarily, some permanently – or given a deadline to improve conditions.

As for the Karantina slaughterhouse in Beirut that was shut down last week, Abu Faour said an alternative should be found. The facility violated both legal and Islamic standards, he said, meaning the meat being produced was not halal.

“If we were butchering animals after they had already died in Beirut’s slaughterhouse, I wonder what was happening in other areas,” he said.

He said finding alternatives was not easy because most slaughterhouses violated food safety standards, but stressed it was preferable to have a temporary meat shortage rather than allow contaminated food into the market.

Abu Faour also named the slaughterhouse in Beirut’s Sabra neighborhood. “I am embarrassed to show the media what the inspectors discovered at Sabra,” he said, adding that a number of the butcheries in the area had been closed.

Luckily for the Lebanese, Abu Faour also delivered some relatively uplifting news, informing the public that a number of places had addressed the issues and requested that the ministry run tests again.

Among those asking for a new test, he said, were various branches of Roadster Diner, Kababji, McDonald’s, Hawa Chicken and Harkous Chicken. TSC, Fahed Jounieh, Spinneys, Bou Khalil, Raouf Ghanem and Rammal were the most notable supermarkets that had made efforts to address the concerns raised in recent weeks.

Although the ministry has not yet examined the new samples from all the places, the initial results concerning storage, sanitation and hygiene measures showed very positive signs, the minister explained.

But while Abu Faour made the move in an attempt to shed a more positive light on the progress being made, a representative for one chain, who requested anonymity out of fear his business would be targeted for retribution by the ministry, said the damage had already been done.

“This is a very sensitive issue and all the news is not correct,” the representative said, adding that the branch of his chain named for violating health codes had not made any changes or any requests from the ministry. “The way they are handling samples is totally wrong.”

The spokesperson said he had been unaware of what product the Health Ministry had deemed not up to standard until the minister discussed the issue on television.

“It’s like a doctor saying you are sick but not telling you how,” he added. “If they had a good plan, then yes, we are behind it but here they have a gun to your head and kill you before they tell you what is wrong.

Addressing the owners of the companies that have violated safety measures, Abu Faour told them to make efforts to improve rather than bet that his ministry would grow weary of the campaign. He also warned them against considering using political influence or any kind of force against the authorities.

The minister also warned shops against exploiting the campaign by “illicitly increasing the prices of meat or water,” saying the government would impose price ceilings to prevent such actions.

He also stressed that his campaign did not involve any political interests. “There is no chicken for March 14 or March 8, or a water pipeline for those and another for these,” he said jokingly.

Also Wednesday, Future MP Mohammad Qabbani chaired a meeting of the Parliament’s Committee for Public Works, Energy, Transport and Water to discuss water safety.

He said the committee recommended issuing the executive decrees to implement Law 210 of 2012, which would force all companies selling potable water to satisfy certain standards before obtaining a permit.

The committee called on all members of the government to get involved in the new food and water safety efforts and said it would talk to Speaker Nabih Berri about holding a Parliament session on the subject. It also formed a sub-committee headed by MP Khodr Habib to follow up on water safety efforts with relevant departments and file a report within a month.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 27, 2014, on page 3.




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