The largest slaughterhouse in Lebanon was recently shut down by the Ministry of Public Health. Located in the capital Beirut, the Karantina slaughterhouse is no stranger to controversy. It had been subject to an international campaign by Compassion in World Farming who reported horrific treatment of animals at the facility only two years ago. However, the Karantina slaughterhouse was not closed for animal welfare reasons. According to the Minister of Public Health, the slaughterhouse did not meet the minimum health requirements and used contaminated water to clean the meat it was producing. The minister also ordered other slaughterhouses to be closed: three in the south and one in Tripoli. The closure of these slaughterhouses and some restaurants over the past few months shed light on the importance of consumer rights and safety in Lebanon.
One issue that has not been given much attention until recently is the safety of employees working in the food sector. Handling contaminated meat and agricultural products with high content of pesticides must surely have negative health implications. The issue was brought to light last month when the minister revealed that a recently filed lawsuit claimed that 19 workers at the Beirut slaughterhouse had died of cancer over a period of seven years. If true, this is extremely worrying as the total number of slaughterhouse employees is only 70.
Karantina is a mixed use residential, commercial and industrial neighborhood near the port of Beirut. Residents of the area have been complaining about the foul odor in the atmosphere for over ten years. According to experts, Karantina is one of the most polluted areas in Lebanon and is not suitable for a human habitation. In addition to the slaughterhouse, a major source of pollution is Sukommi’s waste treatment and sorting facility. With all these polluting facilities, it is difficult to pinpoint what could be contributing to health problems claimed by the slaughterhouse workers and residents.
A number of studies have investigated the link between cancer and working in a slaughterhouse or butchery, some concluding that a link indeed exists. One such study found that the incidence of cancers of the head, neck and liver was higher for meat workers than the population average. Another study showed that occupational exposure to meat increases the risk of certain types of cancer.
The Beirut slaughterhouse has been problematic for a long time; failure to meet health requirements and food standards, cruel practices on the animals and a major health risk for employees are some of the hazards associated with this facility. These issues need to be addressed by first identifying the extent of the problem. As a start, the following is should be undertaken:
- An investigation to verify the cancer claims, and if true, the cause should be examined.
- Air quality monitoring (indoor and outdoor) to identify any airborne toxins and other pollutants.
- A health survey to determine any unusual disease patterns within the nearby community.
As for the slaughterhouses and meat industry in general, a proper study needs to be undertaken to determine what worker health and safety measures to introduce. Clear standards and regulations should then be developed. It is essential that regulations have strong legal support to ensure enforcement and avoid recurrence of this clearly failed enterprise.