Over a series of press conferences Abu Faour revealed a list of slaughterhouses, factories, farms, shops and restaurants where inspectors had found contaminated food or lapses in safety standards, with many ordered to be closed. The list is currently in triple digits, and may grow even further, although some establishments have now been removed after correcting violations.
“Around 1,005 institutions have been detected across all Lebanese territories with 3,600 taken food samples sent to the laboratories of the Ministry of Agriculture,” said Abu Faour at the initial press conference, adding: “The discovered irregularities were grave and the Lebanese do not know what they're actually devouring.”
At the press conference the minister said food at some facilities, which he declined to name, had been found to be contaminated with sewage. Other outlets had been caught forward-dating food production dates by up to three months.
Among the businesses shuttered by the health ministry were the main slaughterhouses in Beirut and Tripoli, including the Karantina abattoir in Beirut, along with its neighbouring bone grinding facility. Reports described rusty meat hooks, an untiled and unwashed floor, unclean water, and unsanitary slaughtering and packing methods at the slaughterhouses, noting that the conditions in the facilities meant meat produced there was not Halal.
The revelations sparked an immediate backlash, with politicians and business leaders claiming the health ministry’s campaign was politically motivated. Tourism minister Michel Pharaon initially called for greater accountability from the Ministry of Health.
“It is the right of every institution to have samples from other sources… We ask minister Abu Faour to allow the examination of samples and control means to transfer and save them,” said Pharaon.
“As institutions are held accountable, there must be some responsibility on the Ministry of Health which remained silent for over 20 years,” he added.
But this week Abu Faour and Pharaon held a joint press conference, where they launched a booklet outlining food safety guidelines. Both ministers said their departments were cooperating to improve food safety in the country, and Abu Faour emphasised the campaign was not “retaliatory”.
A number of Lebanese politicians put forward suggestions for food safety legislation, including former Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who submitted a draft law which had been prepared during his term in office, but never implemented due to the resignation of the government at the time. Abu Faour announced the formation of a subcommittee, which is set to produce new draft legislation on food safety in December.
Businesses hit back
Many from the Lebanese business community condemned the Ministry of Health campaign. Head of the Beirut Chamber of Commerce, Muhammad Shukeir, said the ministry should have minimised publicity to protect Lebanon’s reputation, and asked the government to specify how consumers should replace the hundreds of products which had been removed from the market.
Pierre Ashqar and investor Charles Arbeed echoed Shukeir’s criticism of the public way in which Abu Faour had shamed businesses, describing it as “counterproductive”. Restaurants’ Union representative Tony Rami called on the government to issue clear guidelines on food preparation.
Abu Faour rejected criticism of his ministry’s campaign, and said: “Regardless of any difficulties or obstacles, this food safety campaign shall continue, including all Lebanese areas with no exception, until the aspired goals are achieved.”