Slaughterhouses in Lebanon are ‘slaughtering’ the Lebanese too

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A chicken farm belonging to Hawa Chicken, a popular chicken shop across Lebanon. Al-Akhbar/Marwan Bou Haidar

By: Hadeel Farfour

Published Friday, December 5, 2014

More than 80 percent of slaughterhouses in Lebanon do not have veterinarians on duty. Around 87 percent of slaughterhouses employ people with no health certifications. Up to 10 percent of slaughterhouses have been shut down permanently and 72 percent of chicken slaughterhouses have received warnings to bring their facilities to conform to health specifications.

In short, this is the result of the comprehensive survey conducted by the Ministry of Health on farms, slaughterhouses, and butcher shops throughout Beirut and the rest of Lebanon.

The Health Ministry has conducted a survey of more than 80 slaughterhouses in Lebanon (chicken, cattle, farms, butcheries, and private facilities) as part of its food safety drive. The survey is not exhaustive or final, but rather the beginning of a series of reports and investigations according to Health Ministry sources who spoke to Al-Akhbar. The sources also said there might be slaughterhouses in the country that the ministry is unaware of, but stressed that even the incomplete survey was sufficient to produce an idea of the extent of the violations posing a hazard to the health and safety of people consuming meat in Lebanon.

Results and procedures

Out of 66 slaughterhouses that produce red meat, seven were shut down permanently, and 25 temporarily until they meet the health and safety requirements. Warnings were issued to 30 slaughterhouses, while only four slaughterhouses were found to be compliant, including the slaughterhouses of Nabatiyeh and Tyre, which were described as operating under “very good” conditions. The other two compliant slaughterhouses were in Choueifat (The Harkous slaughterhouse and Suleiman Farm).

No chicken slaughterhouses were shut down permanently but seven were closed temporarily until they comply with health specifications. Eighteen chicken slaughterhouses received warnings.

The reports enclosed with the survey show that more than 90 percent of these slaughterhouses are unlicensed. In Zgharta, for example, seven inspected slaughterhouses received warnings compelling them to obtain investment licenses and to appoint veterinarians, bearing in mind that 80 percent of the slaughterhouses surveyed in Lebanon did not have veterinarians on call; 87 percent had not obtained health certificates for their employees either.

It is worth mentioning that the data of the Ministry of Agriculture indicate there are only 40 slaughterhouses that the ministry is officially aware of, according to a survey conducted by the ministry in 2013, of which only one is licensed. This, if anything, clearly shows the extent of corruption and collusion, neglect, and chaos as well as the dominance of personal interests over the public interest in official work. Otherwise, how can one explain that the Ministry of Agriculture, which is the body that oversees slaughterhouses, does not know about a lot of enterprises where animals are slaughtered for consumption (farms, butcheries, etc.)?

In the Koura region, seven out of nine slaughterhouses were given warnings for being unlicensed and for failing to obtain health certificates for their employees. Meanwhile, all chicken slaughterhouses in Baabda received warnings for lacking the proper licenses, health certifications, as well as veterinarians on call (all in the Qbei region).

In Akkar, although the survey showed that cattle slaughterhouses (three) had “acceptable” conditions, they received warnings for lacking
proper licenses and health certifications for their workers. Out of 44 butcheries, only two were described as having good conditions, while 42 received warnings for their lack of licenses and health certifications.

In Choueifat, 14 slaughterhouses were surveyed. Inspectors gave them scores on a scale of 0 to 20, with eight receiving a score below 10; seven slaughterhouses were closed including one permanently. In Nabatiyeh, five slaughterhouses were inspected, out of which two were closed down.

The Beirut ‘independent’ slaughterhouse

Regarding the “Beirut independent slaughterhouse,” as Minister of Health Wael Abu Faour called it, Faour appealed to the judiciary on Thursday to intervene and prosecute those in charge of the facility, after it was revealed that the accumulating neglect had “killed 19 workers at the slaughterhouse.” Sources at the ministry say that the case has yet to go to the judiciary, noting that what Abu Faour did in his press conference was tantamount to a an official tipoff for the judiciary to act on it, explaining that the ministry would follow up the matter legally.

Abu Faour’s declaration that workers at the slaughterhouse had died of cancer sparked many reactions both among the public and the politicians. On Thursday, the Ministry of Labor appointed a committee of medical doctors to investigate why a number of workers at the Beirut slaughterhouse had developed cancer.

The case falls within the jurisdiction of the Labor Ministry, because in the event a link is established between the prevalence of the disease and the workplace, it becomes an issue of occupational health and safety.

On Wednesday, Abu Faour had stressed the need to hold the director of the facility and the official who concealed medical and technical reports from the Beirut Municipality accountable.

What about the “big heads”?

It is worth mentioning that according to records of the slaughterhouses department at the Beirut Municipality, there were 12 letters sent to the city council regarding the rehabilitation of all the facilities at the temporary slaughterhouse in Beirut from 2008 to 2012.

Furthermore, the director of the department Joseph Menem (the employee concerned) had sent letters to the former governor of the city of Beirut Nassif Qalush under the notice “urgent” on May 10, 2008, asking him to inspect the two slaughterhouse facilities and implement restoration works immediately. The letter states that the majority of surfaces at the two slaughterhouse facilities were rusted and eroded, posing a danger to public health. A letter sent to the governor on September 9, 2009 asked him to address floods and pollutants from the Beirut River contaminating the slaughterhouse.

It is worth noting that a decision issued by the cabinet in July 2014 requested the municipality to rehabilitate, restore, and maintain the slaughterhouse.

But sources at the Beirut governor’s office fear that in the event legal action is taken in the way that is being suggested, the case would be settled at the expense of a low-level official while those directly involved and responsible are ignored. While Abu Faour’s sources stress his serious intention to push for criminal prosecution, the sources from the Beirut governorship question the ability to reach any conclusion, because, as they said, “the powerful political forces would definitely protect their people, who would not have acted wrongfully if they did not have that protection.” Criminal prosecution would thus require confronting powerful forces, which would definitely put even more pressure on Abu Faour.

The sources at the Beirut governorship stress the list of workers diagnosed with cancer that Abu Faour relied on was inaccurate. As an example, the sources say that Mustafa Mahmoud al-Mustafa (fiscal number 4402) named in the list had quit the slaughterhouse since 1999, while Meri Saadin al-Meri (4439) had not been retained by the temporary slaughterhouse. Meanwhile, Afif al-Hajj Assaf (4125) had been ill before the slaughterhouse was established. The sources said that the name Omar al-Shehaha’s fiscal number (4289) was not in the records.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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