Politicized decision keeps Beirut’s slaughterhouse open despite appalling conditions

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Inside the decaying Beirut slaughterhouse. (Photo: Marwan Tahtah)

By: Hadeel Farfour

Published Monday, November 3, 2014

No one disagrees that conditions at Beirut’s slaughterhouse are appalling. Some people call for shutting it down while others stress the need to rehabilitate it. Despite the much publicized environmental and hygienic fallout, none of the officials have taken on the responsibility of directly addressing this issue. The excuse is a political decision with a sectarian background.

It has been 20 years since Beirut’s “temporary” slaughterhouse was established in a hangar that was hastily built on a piece of property in al-Mudawwar neighborhood in 1994. It was supposed to be there for only two years, but the two years were extended and today the conditions at the slaughterhouse and their obvious repercussions have gotten worse. Even though this slaughterhouse lacks proper hygienic and environmental conditions and threatens people’s health, food and environmental security, officials have not been able to take a decision to rehabilitate it or repair it or transfer it back to its original site (across from the current location in Qarantina where Beirut’s former slaughterhouse, established in the 1960s, stood before it was destroyed during the civil war and then taken over by the army.)

Information indicates that the reason this issue has been kept in a state of limbo and has not been resolved is sectarian par excellence, according to sources at the Beirut municipality and based on remarks made by the executive president of the Union of Butchers and Cattle Merchants, Maarouf Bekdash. Beirut’s mayor, Bilal Hamad, said in 2012 that “the issue requires contacts with politicians, specifically with sect leaders.” There is opposition by Christians to transferring the slaughterhouse to its former location because the property is adjacent to land owned by the Maronite Patriarchate. The dilemma, however, is not restricted to the question of transferring the slaughterhouse, but to rehabilitating it as well. This suggests that the years of ongoing neglect might actually be intentional.

Municipality sources indicate that the list of conditions required for rehabilitating all the facilities at the slaughterhouse was referred to the municipal council on September 5, 2012. However, “until today, the council has not raised the issue in order to take the proper decision.” Despite the fact that on August 10, 2010, the health committee called for the need to repair and rehabilitate the slaughterhouse, the issue is avoided because of a sharp disagreement between members of the municipal council,” according to municipality sources, adding: “Christian members are opposed to both repairing and rehabilitating it.”

“The answer does not lie in rehabilitating the slaughterhouse. The problem has to do with more than just the infrastructure. Certain practices by cattle merchants are not going to change,” said Beirut’s deputy mayor, Nadim Abou Rizk, in an interview with Al-Akhbar. He added: “Even if this hangar improves, the way animals are slaughtered isn’t going to change.”

It should be noted however, that the slaughterhouse’s dilapidated infrastructure makes its conditions worse. During winter for example, rain leaks from the roof and when the Beirut River floods, it covers the area outside with water which also easily leaks inside the slaughterhouse. Not to mention other factors that affect the cleanliness of the meat such as the rusting hangar and the holes in the walls that allow rodents to enter. Abou Rizk did not deny any of that and acknowledged “the need to solve the problem” but not by rehabilitating the slaughterhouse. Instead he thinks it should be shut down and transferred somewhere else, adding that “the area’s residents, of all sects, are not to keen about the presence of the slaughterhouse.”

Therein lies the predicament. Abou Rizk does not believe that the Qarantina area would be one of the “suitable” sites for the slaughterhouse. He pointed out that “they envision for the area opportunities in the service industry because it is the northeastern entrance to Beirut and is likely to witness growth in upscale tourism.” Therefore, it is not a suitable area to have a slaughterhouse. “They cannot impose projects on the area’s residents, Abou Rizk said.

“They do not want to rehabilitate it and they do not want to transfer it to its proper place in Qarantina,” said Bekdash about Christian members of the municipal council standing in the way of resolving the issue. He went on: “It was Pierre Gemayel (interior minister at the time) who built the slaughterhouse in Qarantina.” He pointed out the need to establish a modern slaughterhouse with proper hygienic and environmental conditions in the capital. Bekdash insisted on Qarantina as a suitable site for a modern slaughterhouse. “It is a good place to receive cattle from the port,” he said “since it is close to the aggregation of cattle farms in al-Shwaifat, which includes 15 farms and in al-Fanar which includes 10 farms.” Bekdash criticized other suggested sites for the slaughterhouse such as al-Shwaifat. He pointed out that these areas are not fit to house a slaughterhouse because “they have enough problems” as it is.

Although he stressed that the union’s main demand is to establish a modern slaughterhouse instead of fixing the temporary one, Bekdash pointed out that “the deteriorating conditions of the slaughterhouse” require that we demand to rehabilitate it in order to provide the necessary hygienic conditions. In this regard, sources close to Beirut’s governor, Ziad Shbib, said the governor allocated credit for some needed repairs. According to the sources, Shbib is waiting for the municipal council to finish the list of conditions for the slaughterhouse, adding that he agrees with what agriculture minister, Akram Chehayeb, said when he visited the slaughterhouse on the first of the month, namely, that “the situation is disastrous” and “the city needs to build a modern slaughterhouse.” In this regard, Bekdash said that Shbib promised to build a slaughterhouse in administrative Beirut.

According to Bekdash, a project to build a modern slaughterhouse was presented by former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2004 but it was rejected by former President Emile Lahoud. In addition, Chehayeb had announced that the European Union is ready to provide assistance to build a new and modern slaughterhouse, pointing out that “a comprehensive study was prepared in 2012 as a joint effort between all the relevant ministries, the municipality and the province of Beirut, but it has not been implemented yet.

For those who are not familiar with the slaughterhouse, it is a worn-out hangar built by the municipality of Beirut on a piece of property in al-Mudawwar after late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri asked butchers in 1994 to temporarily leave the Camille Chamoun Sports City Stadium to al-Mudawwar. A field report recommended by the Union of Cattle Merchants revealed the catastrophic conditions at the slaughterhouse. It drew attention to many practices that are inconsistent with hygienic and environmental standards, from lack of sterilization and prior medical monitoring and examination to the way the cattle are brought to the slaughter hall. “The entrails, heads and feet of slaughtered animals are transferred on dirty and rusty metal carriages and buried in a small room unfit for this activity.”

Big pieces of meat are transferred on workers’ shoulders from the slaughter hall to the showroom without being stored in refrigerated chambers.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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