SIDON/BEIRUT: Around 85 percent of companies in the country that sell drinking water do not have a license to do so, Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil said Thursday as authorities continued to uncover expired goods around the country.

The minister, speaking during a news conference on public health and food safety, added that many do not meet safety requirements.

Khalil said water companies had a month to obtain a license after Parliament approved a draft law Wednesday that organizes the process of bottling and selling water, and he called on authorities to conduct a study on the state of drinking water in Lebanon.

“We will not yield to blackmail or political pressure from those who have interests in this sector as our position is ruled by the people’s interest in having access to clean water,” Khalil added.

He also commented on the incidents of expired medicines dumped in Sidon and Zahle, saying that the country suffers from “a chronic problem” in its lack of a mechanism to safely dispose of expired medication.

“This is very dangerous and the problem is not only found at pharmacies and warehouses but also at the Health Ministry which has quantities of medicines expired since 2006 without any way to dispose of them,” he said.

Khalil reassured people that expired medicines were not being sold and said the ministry was working on finding a central warehouse to destroy the medicines under its supervision.

In Sidon, 15 boxes of expired pastries, croissants, candy and gum were found dumped in a water canal by residents Thursday. The expiry date of the foodstuffs was between the end of last year and early March.

According to the Central News Agency, police closed down two stores in the Bint Jbeil village of Rmaish after discovering expired food items, but did not arrest the owners. Police also shut a store that contained expired foodstuff in Kfar Dounin in Bint Jbeil.

In Marjayoun, 40 expired juice bottles were found in a trash container in the village of Qlaya.

Police examined the bottles and emptied them on the ground.

Tons of spoiled meat and fish have been discovered in Sidon, Metn and other areas, prompting security forces to carry out raids on warehouses and various establishments.

Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi told reporters at Baabda Palace Thursday that 10 people had been arrested in cases of food safety violations.

Authorities have also detained a number of individuals for questioning, after catching them in the act of disposing of expired foodstuffs.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Najib Mikati said the government has renewed efforts to ensure food safety.

“Joint measures [between ministries] to ensure food safety have been launched with momentum and a high-level of coordination to rid the market of spoiled or expired food,” Mikati said via his Facebook page.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 23, 2012, on page 4.

Read more:
(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News ::