Lebanese Health Minister Abu Faour vows to take on business owners

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Tahini and halawa factories have until December 31 to abide by Ministry of Health regulations. Al-Akhbar/Haitham Moussawi

By: Eva Shoufi, Usama al-Qadiri

Published Friday, December 12, 2014

For the very first time, the Lebanese state appears to actually be fighting on the side of the poor. The question of food safety does not merely protect the Lebanese from dangerous toxins, it also opens the door wide open for the state to reimpose its prestige and "smash the heads" of those who thought they were too important.

Dairy and cheese factory owners decided to challenge the state. Either they purchase milk at less than 1,100 Lebanese Liras ($0.73) per liter, the price milk producers and the state agreed to, or they would stop altogether, "and let the minister purchase their products." Health Minister Wael Abu Faour was outraged. "You are uniting against the poor? Well, for those who think they are stronger than the state and have links to a minister, we do not have ties with anyone," came his stern reply.

"If they want a class battle then let it be," Abu Faour threatened the capitalists. "While it is true that we live in a free and democratic system, there are laws which must be respected. Nobody can intimidate the state and small producers. This greed will not be allowed and we will not tolerate it."

In turn, Agriculture Minister Akram Shehayeb stressed on the need to "stop the attack on the milk sector." He said that "there had been a gentlemen's agreement between factory owners and milk producers." But it will not stay this was. "An agreement was reached with the ministers of industry and economy to hold a meeting next Monday to fix the price of milk at LL1,100."

Shehayeb also revealed "fraudulence in the production of labneh (strained yogurt) and the repackaging of imported white cheese as Lebanese cheese." He announced that some dehydrated milk products are brought into the country licensed under the the Economy Ministry and sold on the basis of conforming to standards, but they do not." On the other hand, Shehayeb gave tahini and halawa factories that committed food safety violations until December 31 to abide by the regulations.

Inspection teams will then investigate pickles (stored in a disastrous manner), jams, canned products, pastry shops, bakeries, and plants that package spices, grains, beverages, and sweets. At a later stage, cooperatives producing traditional pantry products will also be targeted. Starting on January 1, 2015, products which are not registered at the ministry will no longer be exported or allowed into the local market.

Abu Faour, on the other hand, went ahead with the inspection of wheat mills in Beirut. Five mills failed to meet the standards, they are al-Taj-Crown Flour Mill, Dora Flour Mills, Baraka Mills, Modern Mills of Lebanon, and Bakalian Mills. He issued a warning to Crown and Dora mills and ordered the closure of Bakalian, Baraka, and Modern Mills temporarily, until health conditions are met. The inspector's report indicated that Bakalian (in Karantina) is close to the waste management facility Sukleen, leading to the presence of unpleasant odors, which required the installation of an air filtration system or a relocation. Inside Modern Mills of Lebanon, the inspectors found mice, pigeons, and doves and that the unloading center did not meet health requirements.

In Taanayel, Health Ministry inspectors, supported by State Security raided a slaughterhouse on Thursday morning and detained Omar and Khaled al-Shemali. They were interrogated based on reports that they were slaughtering sick and dying cattle. Sources in the Health Ministry indicated that the raid followed the sealing of Kfarzabad slaughterhouse, which was butchering sick cattle. Meat from this cattle is sold at cheaper prices, as low as LL10,000 ($6.67) for beef and LL15,000 ($10) for lamb, compared to the going prices of LL17,000 ($11.33) for the former and LL27,000 ($18) for the latter. According to the sources, sick cattle are not sold by weight, as "dying" cows could be bought for $150 and sick sheep for LL50,000 ($33.33).

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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