BEIRUT: A sweeping new food safety draft law that aims to reform the way the government handles food safety issues was approved by Parliament’s Joint Committees Thursday.
The draft law hopes to improve coordination between ministries over food safety as it is an issue that spans over several departments. If approved by Parliament, the law will make way for the creation of the Food Safety Lebanese Commission (FSLC) that will oversee all related matters.
The approval of the draft law – which is an amended version of one created by late Economy Minister and Beirut MP Basil Fuleihan in the early 2000s – was expedited by the heavily publicized food safety campaign led by Health Minister Wael Abu Faour.
The campaign led to the creation of a special parliamentary committee to deal with food safety that was spearheaded by MP Atef Majdalani and included several ministers, such as Abu Faour and Economics Minister Alain Hakim.
It was this committee that created the draft law which the Joint Committees approved. In order to become a full-fledged law the draft must be discussed and adopted during a session of Parliament’s General Assembly. The law then must be referred to the Cabinet, which in turn would provide the appropriate framework for its application.
The law is extremely broad in scope and touches on a lot of the issues which were covered in the food scandal, such as slaughterhouses and storage facilities. The Daily Star obtained a copy of the draft law and has outlined some of the highlights below:
The food safety law outlines the creation and practices of the FSLC, which will oversee the enacting of the law. Its first order of business is to ensure that this law is implemented, as many laws passed by Parliament in the past have never actually been enacted.
The commission will be administered by a seven-member board of food safety experts from a variety of backgrounds. The law explicitly states that they should not own any institution that will be impacted by it.
Beyond issuing the rules of this law, the commission will police all stages of a “food safety chain,” from farming, importing, exporting, packaging, storing and selling among others. This includes sampling food products and sending inspectors to institutions.
The FSLC cannot create regulations but will rather recommend new measures to the Cabinet that can make them law via a decree that will be enforced by the FSLC.
The commission will also have to create an efficient alert system for citizens to be able to raise concerns that they have.
An interesting point is that the FSLC will also use the media to raise awareness of food safety issues in the general public, which could mean that restaurants will continue to be named and shamed if they violate the law.
The FSLC can administer punishments when there is an emergency situation and there is food that is putting citizens in danger. This will involve notifying the media of the contaminated products and could lead to the adoption of a series of measures.
Local food will have its production and marketing stopped, all products on the market will be withdrawn and the institution that produces it could face closure.
If the food was imported, the importation will be stopped and all the produce on the market will be confiscated.
The issue will be sent immediately to the Court of Appeals, which will make the final decision on the products following a testimony from food safety experts. Institutions will have the possibility to appeal the decision.
Farmers will also face prosecution based on the nature of their crime, but the law says that any food safety violation that could cause death will have a “severe punishment.”
Majdalani was serious when he said that this law will encompass everything from “the soil to the dinner table.” Farmers have received intense scrutiny in this law.
A chapter titled, “Duties of Farmers” outlines that farmers must monitor the pesticides, animal feed, compost and medicine they give to animals and crops to ensure that it does not contaminate produce. They must keep a record of all these things which the Agriculture Ministry or any of their customers can ask to see at any time.
Farmers must also notify the ministry if they believe that any of their products may be contaminated and outline the steps that he or she has taken to remedy this.
Slaughterhouses in Lebanon came under the spotlight during the Health Ministry’s food safety campaign and several of them, including Beirut’s Karantina abattoir, were closed due poor conditions.
Article six of the law addresses this when it states that any food, “partially made by animals that have been slaughtered in places where the minimum requirements are not met,” is considered “not safe or health damaging.” These minimum requirements are not specified though.
ANIMALS AND THE ENVIRONMENT
Several articles within the law explicitly state that food safety extends to preventing anything that could hurt humans, animals or the environment. Article four, for instance, states that all food on the market has to meet the requirements “that it is safe and fit to be consumed by humans ... and no damage is caused to nature or animals.”
One could interpret this to outline safe practices for the handling of animals during food processing, which is often flouted in slaughterhouses and in livestock’s transportation in the back of trucks.
Transportation of animals is addressed in a separate article but it only discusses the contamination of food. This article, and many others, could push animal welfare standards to be enforced.
Food packaging is also discussed at length throughout the law. The law states that the process that goes into packaging products must be sanitary and the nutritional facts on the products must be accurate. Animal feed, pesticides, compost and medicine must also be packaged according to these standards.
The law also dictates that food must have warnings on its packaging if it contains any substances that may have side effects, in case consumers have allergies for instance.
The discrepancy uncovered during the food safety campaign which is not explicitly addressed in the food safety law is contaminated water. The law starts with outlining that all the following applies to food, drink and water, among other things, but there is no article specifying regulations for water.
Article 34 does give the FSLC special powers over issues related to the contamination of “water [used] in agricultural activity,” among several other things.
This could mean that water contamination rules are implied throughout the law or the sector may be further regulated when the commission is created.