Adonis Diaries

And here comes food contamination to Lebanon: After internet blackout…

Posted on: July 22, 2012

And here comes food contamination to Lebanon

While Lebanon is renowned for its culinary excellence, some of the most common harmful food bacteria have reached dangerous levels in the country, according to a recent study. These pathogens also show resistance to the most frequently prescribed antibiotics. Calls for legislation to outlaw unhygienic practices is sounding the alarm.

Andrew Bossone posted under “Fears over dangerous food contamination in Lebanon

Lead researcher of the study, Rabih Kamleh, an environmentalist at the American University of Beirut (AUB) said:

“We took samples [of meat and dairy products] from rural regions in Lebanon, the Bekaa, the north and the south. The results are really bad. They are contaminated by different pathogenic microorganisms such as Salmonella, Listeria and Escherichia Coli.” The mean results showed bacterial levels which were much higher than accepted standards set by the Food Standards Agency in the United Kingdom.

A shawarma sandwich. Meat and dairy products in Lebanon may be contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria.stu_spivack / Flickr

Kamleh’s research follows a national uproar in Lebanon, a few months ago, after large amounts of rotten imported meat were found at some of Beirut’s top restaurants and supermarkets. Kamleh announced the results of his study during a public debate with minister of agriculture Hussein Hassan in the Bekaa about proposed national food safety laws.

The minister, who disagrees with Kamleh’s assessment that the source of the hygiene problem is importation and local production values, said he is opposed to proposals for new laws because of the difficulty in enforcing them.

A stalled law

Hussein Hassan said: “The ministry of agriculture cannot apply the new law because it suffers from vacancies in 80% of its staff. There are no agricultural engineers, veterinarians, technical assistants or biochemical engineers.”

Proposals for hygiene laws were first presented to the Lebanese government by researchers in 2005 after a three-year study, but the passing of these laws was stalled when war broke out with Israel in 2006.

In the same year, AUB microbiologist Steve Harakeh published a study showing that 100% of meat samples in Lebanon had bacteria resistant to the common antibiotics oxacilllin and clindamycin, and 42% were resistant to trimethroprim-sulfamethoxazole1.

Harakeh also published a study earlier this year in The International Arabic Journal of Antimicrobial Agents that found several dairy products in Lebanon contained Yersinia enterocolitica and are highly resistant to antimicrobials2.

Initial studies by Kamleh this year are showing similar resistance to antibiotics in meat, and also high rates of E. Coli and Listeria in cheese samples, 66% and 26.6% respectively.

“[The proposed law] is based on modern scientific evidence, so we don’t want to have this law modified to suit what the ministers want to do,” said AUB professor Mey Jurdi, who helped formulate the law in 2005 and has studied the effect of pollution in the Litani River in southern Lebanon on the region’s food supply. “We want to have a comprehensive approach to guarantee food safety in the country.”

(We have no potable water or electricity but we insist on great internet facilities...)

Wissam Tarif is very upset with our internet service providers and infrastructure and initiated a petition drive.

He wrote in

Why is our Internet so bad? About one million more Lebanese are online than the system was designed to accommodate. For years, we’ve been lied to and watched as public money drained away without desperately needed infrastructure upgrades materializing. Experts say the next major fixes, promised for September, are months behind schedule.

We’re famous for some of the highest prices and slowest speed for the net, with abysmal government planning to avoid and mitigate problems. Ogero and MOT have traded blame, but their deadlock is crippling Lebanon’s investment environment, universities, businesses and many other facets of professional and personal life.

Corruption, politicking and ineptitude are blocking crucial infrastructure and condemning us to experience Internet misery and frustration — only a massive outcry can turn the tide and help unleash the net access we deserve.

The Ministry of Telecommunications and its implementing company, Ogero, are at each others’ throats, killing any attempt to improve Internet services in Lebanon.  But after the latest series of blackouts, the business community is up in arms about the days of lost productivity and profits, and the Minister is feeling the heat. If enough of us raise our voices now we can help force through a political agreement that breathes life back into our dearly departed Internet.

We’ve all cursed our service providers at home and with our friends — now it’s time to transform our individual outrage into a collective action that Ogero, MOT and the Prime Minister himself can’t ignore. Add your voice now, and we’ll make sure that the message resonates across Lebanese media!

  • References on the food contamination

    1. Harakeh, S. et al. Isolation, molecular characterization and antimicrobial resistance patterns of Salmonella and Escherichia coli isolates from meat-based fast food in Lebanon. Science of the Total Environment 341, 33-44 ((2005) | Article | PubMed | CAS |
    2. Harakeh, S. et al. Highly Resistant Yersinia enterocolitica Isolated from Dairy Based Foods in Lebanon. The International Arabic Journals of Antimicrobial Agents 2-1 (2012) doi:10.3823/706

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