Abou Faour and other ministers inspected wheat silos at Beirut’s port last month following investigations into both wheat and sugar storage. Inspectors found evidence of rats and birds around wheat silos, and discovered 700 tonnes of expired sugar, and a large quantity of undated sugar, some of which may have reached consumers.
Under Lebanese law, sugar that is within two months of its expiry date cannot be introduced into the consumer supply chain. The health minister also said sugar was being distributed to unknown buyers every three days, making it untraceable.
Mountain of corruption
“The deeper we endeavoured into the file of food safety the more certain we become that we live on a mountain of corruption,” said Abou Faour.
“After coordination with the agriculture ministry, the wheat storehouse in Beirut seaport has been discovered to be not respecting the standards of food safety,” he added, saying that Lebanese citizens “[share] the wheat grain with rats”.
Ghazi Zeaiter, minister for public works and transportation, said: “The condition of the storage coolers is intimidating and unacceptable and jeopardizes human's health.”
The ministers noted that conditions at the grain silos had been building up for years, while management of the port’s silos had changed only seven months ago, and the current port manager had only taken up the position in the last five months.
The revelations come hot on the heels of Abou Faour’s investigations into food safety standards in restaurants, supermarkets and food preparation facilities. A major series of inspections found poor conditions across the country, leading to a large number of businesses to be shut down, and Abu Faour to state that the country’s food was “dunked in diseases and microbes”.
Lebanese Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam spoke out in support of the health minister’s campaign last month, saying: “We stand today in the shadow of a food safety revolution by Abou Faour and we should all endeavour and do all it takes to ensure the safety of citizens.”
Other ministers have been highly critical of Abou Faour’s campaign, and his blunt statements to the media. Alain Hakim, minister for economy, has spoken out against the health minister, saying that the fight against corruption should focus on issues such as solid waste disposal, and not on restaurants.
At a press conference this month, Hakim said: “The visit to the wheat silos at Beirut Port turned out to be a media circus. The media show is unacceptable.”
“Wheat is fine because silos are hermetically closed,” he added, echoing a criticism from Moussa Khoury, director of grain silos at Beirut Port, who complained that inspections only looked at the outside of the silos, and not within the silos themselves.