One man’s army

Wael Abou Faour’s food safety cam­paign may not out­live him

Executive Magazine - - Economics & Policy -

On a crisp Fe­bru­ary morn­ing just be­fore dawn, two boys walk down the nar­row street lead­ing to the cen­ter of the Sabra meat mar­ket with short knives tucked away in sheaths at­tached to their belts. Just a few months ear­lier, Health Min­is­ter Wael Abou Faour had told a press con­fer­ence, “I’m em­bar­rassed to show the me­dia what the in­spec­tors dis­cov­ered at Sabra.” Ac­cord­ing to a writeup in TheDaily Star on the con­fer­ence, the min­is­ter said he’d also or­dered the clo­sure of a few butcher shops in the camp. When Ex­ec­u­tive vis­ited in Fe­bru­ary, ev­i­dence of clo­sures was nowhere to be found. One butcher — who asked not to be named — said the camp’s slaugh­ter­house had long been shut­tered. In­deed, the daily Al Mus­taqbal re­ported the clo­sure back in 2003. To­day, predawn Sabra is an open air mar­ket for whole­salers sell­ing to re­tail­ers. Beef sold in the mar­ket is slaugh­tered else­where. For Has­san Merhi, a young man who only re­cently joined the fam­ily busi­ness, else­where is pri­vately run slaugh­ter­houses in Choueifat or Fa­nar.

Merhi’s un­cle used to ply his trade at the Beirut slaugh­ter­house. He says his fam­ily has been slaugh­ter­ing for gen­er­a­tions — claim­ing his great-grand­fa­ther used to walk sheep from Me­d­ina, Saudi Ara­bia, to Beirut. Re­fus­ing to be too spe­cific or of­fer ex­act fig­ures, he con­fides that trans­porta­tion costs in­volved in mov­ing op­er­a­tions from out­side Beirut to Sabra are high so the fam­ily some­times clan­des­tinely slaugh­ters some­where in the city. Know­ing that’s il­le­gal, he won’t say where. Merhi’s cost sav­ing scheme is not, how­ever, unique.

As is of­ten the case in Le­banon, Ex­ec­u­tive was not able to get ex­act statis­tics on il­le­gal slaugh­ter prac­tices, but Bas­sel Al-Baz­zal, head of an­i­mal health ser­vices at the Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture, knows it’s hap­pen­ing. “Ac­tu­ally, all over Le­banon they are slaugh­ter­ing out­side of the slaugh­ter­houses,” he says, as he takes Ex­ec­u­tive on a vir­tual tour of the pri­vate and public slaugh­ter­houses in the coun­try. Re­peat­edly re­fer­ring to a list com­piled in 2013, which he says is con­fi­den­tial, Baz­zal ex­plains that there are a to­tal of 14 li­censed pri­vate slaugh­ter­houses in the coun­try — 12 of which are in Mount Le­banon. “But there are some [pri­vate] slaugh­ter­houses that are not reg­is­tered yet, so we can say there are more than this,” he says. Ad­di­tion­ally, there are 13 public abat­toirs run by mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties.

MON­I­TOR­ING MISHAPS

Li­censes, he says, come from the Min­istry of In­dus­try while the Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture pro­vides a health reg­is­tra­tion num­ber, which he ex­plains is not ex­actly a li­cense, but is nec­es­sary for a slaugh­ter­house to run legally, as per Law 949/1 from 2011. The Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture has vet­eri­nar­i­ans on site to in­spect meat post slaugh­ter to en­sure it is ready for mar­ket. The min­istry also has in­spec­tors who visit abat­toirs to see if they com­ply with tech­ni­cal and health cri­te­ria, Baz­zal ex­plains. They visit dur­ing the day, af­ter the ac­tual killing — which takes place in the wee hours of the morn­ing — is fin­ished.

“We in­spect the places, not the process of slaugh­ter­ing. It’s not pos­si­ble to go at night,” he says.

Not see­ing the process also de­creased the use­ful­ness of a re­cent and well pub­li­cized visit to the Beirut slaugh­ter­house by the UN’s Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­ga­ni­za­tion (FAO). Mau­rice Saade, the FAO rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Beirut, tells Ex­ec­u­tive in a tele­phone in­ter­view that the body is re­frain­ing from mak­ing spe­cific rec­om­men­da­tions un­til mem­bers can see the abat­toir in ac­tion. “We need to come back and visit once it’s re­opened,” Saade says. He ex­plains that the FAO has pre­pared a re­port and, as of mid March, planned to hand it over to the Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture. He says that be­cause the min­istry com­mis­sioned the re­port, it will be the min­istry’s call whether or not to make it public.

THE HEALTH MIN­ISTRY HAS ONLY 70 IN­SPEC­TORS — THE MIN­ISTRY OF ECON­OMY AND TRADE

EM­PLOYS 170

MURKY MAN­DATE

Both Baz­zal and Walid Am­mar, direc­tor gen­eral of the Min­istry of Public Health, place the re­spon­si­bil­ity of reg­u­lat­ing un­li­censed slaugh­ter­houses at the doors of the coun­try’s var­i­ous mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties. Am­mar ex­plains that the min­istry has 70 in­spec­tors spread through­out Le­banon (which he says is too few, point­ing to the 170 in­spec­tors em­ployed by the Min­istry of Econ­omy and

Gen­eral Abou Faour

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