Lebanese share wheat with rats, pigeons: minister

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Lebanese share wheat with rats, pigeons: minister
The Daily Star/Dec. 30, 2014

BEIRUT: After weeks of warning the Lebanese over rotten and contaminated meat, the health minister raised red flags Tuesday over something seemingly more innocuous: wheat.

“Lebanese are sharing wheat with rats and pigeons,” Health Minister Wael Abu Faour said Tuesday at the end of an inspection tour of grain silos at Beirut’s port.

“There is a fence, but it’s not sufficient,” Abu Faour told a news conference with the agriculture and economy ministers. “We found a number of rats and rodents, some of them dead.”

“The presence of a huge number of birds also allows the transmission of spores,” he said from the port. “There are also pigeons, some of them dead, around the silos.”

The health minister said two other issues that need to be addressed were the cargo containers and maintenance rooms that could lead to water leakage, causing mold to thrive.

Abu Faour also said the trucks transporting the grain “were not in good condition.”

He referred the case to judicial authorities.

Abu Faour acknowledged that grain silos in the port have recently been placed under new management, noting that an administration was set up only seven months ago, and a manager was appointed two months later.

The health minister said that he “did not hold any party responsible” for the filthy conditions given that the problems in Beirut’s port have been accumulating for years.

But the agriculture minister was quick to blame the poor conditions on the government’s “historic neglect of this port.”

Chehayeb also expressed concern over the facility’s working conditions, noting that 4,000 truck drivers do not have access to a single bathroom.

Port manager Moussa Khoury expressed his support for the health minister’s campaign, but noted that investigations were restricted to areas surrounding the silos and not inside the silos themselves.

Abu Faour and Chehayeb could not access the silos because they became trapped in an elevator for 15 minutes inside the facility.

Despite the poor conditions of the facility, the manager maintained his belief that the wheat abided by health standards, noting that the grains are received and withdrawn from the silos using approved equipment. Khoury also noted that the grains are sterilized before being transferred to the mill.

Tuesday’s move was the latest in a series of actions undertaken by Abu Faour as part of his wildly popular food safety campaign last month. Abu Faour and inspectors from the ministry have been inspecting food and transportation facilities around the country, highlighting safety violations publicly.