Slaugh­ter­house: Where’s the beef?

Beirut’s butch­ers seem to have moved their op­er­a­tions, but where to is any­one’s guess

Executive Magazine - - Contents -

The most con­spic­u­ous re­sult of Beirut Gover­nor Ziad Che­bib’s Novem­ber de­ci­sion to close the city’s main slaugh­ter­house be­cause of un­san­i­tary con­di­tions is the lack of im­pact it had on the mar­ket. The price of cat­tle and sheep meat re­mained sta­ble as sup­ply was, ap­par­ently, com­pletely un­in­ter­rupted.

“Are you still eat­ing the meat in Le­banon?” Che­bib asks Ex­ec­u­tive. Af­ter re­ceiv­ing an af­fir­ma­tive re­ply, he con­tin­ues, “this means the mar­ket is in chaos.” Che­bib says he does not know where the butch­ers who were us­ing the slaugh­ter­house are cur­rently prac­tic­ing their trade, but notes that if there are more slaugh­ter­houses in Beirut, “they are il­le­gal.” He says that the Mu­nic­i­pal­ity of Beirut’s 13 health in­spec­tors are on the look­out for out­law abat­toirs and in­sists his de­ci­sion to shut­ter the slaugh­ter­house was not di­rectly re­lated to Min­is­ter of Health Wael Abou Faour’s food safety cam­paign, launched in late 2014. “I was nom­i­nated in May, and I had many, many, many prob­lems and files. When I opened this file, I found that some­thing had to be done, and I’ve done it. That’s what hap­pened.”


The 1977 law that gov­erns mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties gave them author­ity to “[pro­tect] in­di­vid­ual and public health” and “[en­sure] the health con­trol” of “all the places in which food or bev­er­ages are man­u­fac­tured and sold” within their ju­ris­dic­tion. This in­cludes slaugh­ter­houses. In the case of Beirut, the mu­nic­i­pal­ity is in di­rect con­trol of the abat­toir, and its gen­eral direc­tor is a city em­ployee. Che­bib, who left his job as a judge when ap­pointed gover­nor, does not elab­o­rate when Ex­ec­u­tive asks what legal jus­ti­fi­ca­tion the city has for ac­tu­ally run­ning the abat­toir — af­ter all, the city doesn’t run all of the restau­rants within its ju­ris­dic­tion. In­stead, he ex­plains that it is a re­sult of a tra­di­tion dat­ing back to the Ot­toman era.

The cur­rent slaugh­ter­house was built in 1994 and was in­tended to be a tem­po­rary fa­cil­ity. Like many things tem­po­rary or in­terim in Le­banon, how­ever, 21 years later, no per­ma­nent al­ter­na­tive has been found.

Joseph Mounem, direc­tor gen­eral of the slaugh­ter­house, ex­plains that its ex­is­tence was the re­sult of a post­war com­pro­mise. In 1966, the city built a slaugh­ter­house in the Karantina neigh­bor­hood, ac­cord­ing to a mid 1970s mag­a­zine de­tail­ing city ac­com­plish­ments that an ad­vi­sor to Che­bib showed Ex­ec­u­tive.

War forced the build­ing’s clo­sure, and Mounem ex­plains that by the early 1990s, the butch­ers who once used it were in­stead slaugh­ter­ing an­i­mals in the then-largely de­stroyed Camille Chamoun Sports City Sta­dium on the

south­ern edge of Beirut’s city limit. When the gov­ern­ment de­cided to rebuild the sta­dium, the butch­ers had nowhere to go, Mounem says. In­stead of pay­ing them to leave via the Fund for the Dis­placed, a com­pro­mise was reached. The old slaugh­ter­house was by then a Le­banese Army po­si­tion, so the city built the butch­ers a new slaugh­ter­house in 1994 near the port on land owned by the gov­ern­ment un­til they could be re­lo­cated. That never hap­pened, so the meat traders — who num­bered 20 in 1994 but only 12 to­day, Mounem ex­plains — con­tin­ued work in fa­vor­able fi­nan­cial con­di­tions. Mounem says each week be­tween 900 and 1,300 sheep were slaugh­tered in the fa­cil­ity along with be­tween 170 and 225 cat­tle. He ex­plains that the butch­ers paid a mu­nic­i­pal tax of LBP 5,000 ($3.33) plus VAT per head of sheep and LBP 10,000 ($6.67) plus VAT per head of cat­tle. When the mu­nic­i­pal­ity tried to raise the tax on sheep by LBP 1,000 ($0.67) and the tax on cat­tle by LBP 2,000 ($1.33) in 2000, the butch­ers protested and even­tu­ally forced the mu­nic­i­pal­ity to re­scind its de­ci­sion in 2003, Mounem says. Ex­ec­u­tive has been un­able to reach any of the butch­ers.


In­for­ma­tion on the coun­try’s meat mar­ket is scarce. Ac­cord­ing to Mounem’s fig­ures, the Beirut abat­toir ac­counted for 8,840 to 11,700 slaugh­tered cat­tle and 46,800 to 67,600 sheep an­nu­ally. Statis­tics from the UN’s Food and Agri­cul­tural Or­ga­ni­za­tion, cov­er­ing 2010–2011, show that dur­ing that year, there were 63,000 cows and 375,000 sheep in the coun­try, but does not say how many were slaugh­tered in that pe­riod. Ex­ec­u­tive has not been able to find a break­down of the meat mar­ket, and could not reach Maarouf Bek­dash, pres­i­dent of the meat traders’ syn­di­cate, for com­ment.

As for the fu­ture of the Beirut slaugh­ter­house, many ar­gue that it should be moved. Mu­nic­i­pal Coun­cil mem­ber Hagop Terzian tells Ex­ec­u­tive that there are both po­lit­i­cal and sec­tar­ian rea­sons why the abat­toir has re­mained where it is for so many years, but re­fuses to elab­o­rate on ex­actly what that means. Asked why no pre­vi­ous gover­nor had ad­dressed the un­san­i­tary con­di­tions at the slaugh­ter­house, Che­bib of­fers, “I don’t look be­hind me.” He says the build­ing is cur­rently be­ing ren­o­vated but did not fol­low through on a com­mit­ment to give Ex­ec­u­tive the re­fur­bish­ment plans. That said, he ad­mits he also wants to move the slaugh­ter­house and ex­plains, “We are study­ing the map in Beirut and its sub­urbs. There is a tra­di­tion that Beirut must have a slaugh­ter­house, but that doesn’t mean it has to be in Beirut.”


Beirut Gover­nor Ziad Che­bib closed the Beirut slaugh­ter­house in Novem­ber due to its un­san­i­tary con­di­tions

The fail­ure of past plans to re­lo­cate the abat­toir has been blamed on both po­lit­i­cal and sec­tar­ian fac­tors

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