By Tom Westcott.
Tripoli, 20 June 2014:
Libya’s Municipal Guards, who are responsible for investigating food safety in shops and bakeries, are stepping up their operations . . .[restrict]in the lead-up to Ramadan.
Sebha’s Municipal Guard, one of 33 regional branches across the country, has already seized a large quantity of expired foodstuffs and drinks from several premises. It is preparing to destroy the offending items and is looking at forming a local council health inspection committee, according to Libyan news agency LANA.
As well as checking expiry dates on food packaging in shops, the department also inspects bakeries, checking food preparation and storage conditions, and carries out raids on premises where expired products are being repackaged.
The sale of out-of-date foodstuffs poses a danger to innocent customers in Libya, according to Tripoli’s Municipal Guard. This year, it has been running a campaign to raise public awareness which included having a exhibition stand at Tripoli International Fair.
A table at the fair was piled high with examples of out-of-date products – many of which are popular brands in Libya – seized during operations. “This is just a small sample of items we have collected,” said one of the guards, Akram, who requested that only his first name was used.
The stand also featured posters and leaflets depicting what the force was doing on a daily basis to tackle this particular kind of crime.
“When we find just a few out-of-date items, we give shops a fine because this is a good warning that they will remember, but the second time, we always take them to court,” Akram said. “If big shops are selling expired products on a larger scale, we close them down.”
The powers of the unarmed force are, at present, limited to dealing with shops and bakeries as well as some small-scale criminal operations, Akram said. “The larger groups that deal in repackaging out-of-date foodstuffs are often working under the protection of armed militias,” he explained.
“It is more difficult and dangerous doing our job after the revolution because of the spread of weapons,” he said. “We can’t achieve what we want because we are always under the threat of weapons being used against us.” One member of the guard was shot dead earlier this year whilst at work, he added.
Although the scope of the force is restricted, many more inspections are being carried out than before the revolution, Akram said. “Qaddafi didn’t really care about this and our department was marginalised. We could not have even dreamed about doing this number of operations before the revolution.”
The force also visits pharmacies, where best-before dates on hundreds of medications are checked. Pharmacies stocking expired items are also ordered to pay fines.
Last week, the cabinet established an special committee, vested with executive powers and headed by the Minister of Education, to ensure the provision of adequate and safe food supplies for Ramadan. [/restrict]