17/1/14 Behalal.org team
The Food Standards Agency of Ireland (FSAI) issued a press release on Tuesday 15th January 2013 after publishing findings of a study examining the authenticity of a number of beef burger, beef meal and salami products available from retail outlets in Ireland. It tested for the presence of horse and pig DNA and showed the presence of horse DNA in some beef burger products. This was followed by Food Standards Agency on Wednesday alerting consumers in England.
As well as detecting the presence of horse and pig DNA in some burgers, it also tested 31 beef meal products such as cottage pie, beef curry pie and lasagne.
Some 21 were found to have pig DNA but no traces of horse DNA were found. All 19 salami products analysed tested negative for horse DNA.
Traces of horse DNA were, however, detected in batches of raw ingredients, including some from the Netherlands and Spain.
Concerns for Halal products?
The FSAI states this raises concerns in relation to the traceability of meat ingredients and products entering the food chain, which includes halal lines that may also be produced on the same line of production. This means that unless the cleaning is so good that it’s unavoidable to stop the cross contamination from other products which is what has been demonstrated here. The lesson here is that there must be separate lines for halal production if this is to be avoided altogether.
Our industry sources have advised us that ABP, which owns two of the businesses named by the FSAI, Silvercrest Foods and Dalepak Hambleton and is one of the leading beef producers and exporters in Europe. And Liffy Meats ltd who own the halal world cuisine trademark. Both companies produce halal product lines at the same sites. Often companies producing meat products also pack for other brands and however, it is not clear at this stage if halal lines are affected or how extensive this problem may be for the halal industry.
Protecting all consumers
The lines of communication have been very slow to alert consumers in particular those where it impacts on their faith, which include the Muslim community. It is not clear nor has information been released by the companies implicated (including their supply chain) or the Food Standards Agency’s to confirm if the halal lines have also been affected. We have raised our concerns to the Jeff Rooker, the Chair of the Food Standards Agency UK and contacted the Irish Authority and awaiting their reply.
In addition, we have contacted EBLEX (an organisation for beef and lamb levy payers in England who work independently of Government but liaises closely with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)) who have a vested interest to enlist their help to protect the Muslim community who consume a significant amount of halal meat by requesting that they communicate information if they identify if any lines of halal meat products have been affected due to their links with industry.
EBLEX sector director Nick Allen has warned that the incident could do some damage to the image of meat in the UK.
“These findings are disappointing and utterly frustrating to the industry in England. We work very hard to ensure beef products are high quality and clearly labelled. Traceability is high, so we can find the provenance of a product, but you cannot legislate for someone in the supply chain making a mistake,” he said.
“There is a full investigation taking place and we need to wait and see what the results of that tell us before we can make any judgement on this at all.”
UK Halal meat market
The UK meat market is estimated to be worth £2.8bn and according to the most recent research done by EBLEX Muslims in 2010, 3% of the Muslim community consumed a staggering 20% of lamb alone.
Unfortunately, every time halal meat gets a mention in the media it gets a complete bashing and public hysteria is the result often fuelled by inaccurate reporting of slaughter methods. However, the market size is nothing to be ignored and a dent in the halal meat industry would have a huge economic impact if Muslim consumers lost confidence in it.
How and why this may have occurred?
Unison represent meat inspectors in the UK are blaming the Food Standards Agency (FSA) cuts for the failure of UK authorities to pick up on the contamination sooner. Unison assistant general secretary Karen Jennings said the incident was “yet another example of why the industry isn’t fit to regulate itself” and called for plans to move towards self-regulation to be abandoned.
Indeed the Muslim community stalk holders who once met the FSA have had meetings cancelled again due to cuts. This is not the first time the halal industry maybe affected and continues to face fraud and is need of greater protection.
Government budget cuts for local authorities means that have programmed sampling that are set to protect consumers from mis-labelling claims have been reduced leaving consumers unprotected.
Our industry sources have revealed of allegations of horse meat coming in to the UK from France, Belgium and Germany. That the horse meat is being used as a substitute for beef as its cheaper. We have raised these concerns to the FSA to investigate as the horse-meat may also be used in other meat products.
Where pork is also handled and processed on site or on the same line this investigation has shown evidence of cross contamination which means that consumers need to be better informed and ask more questions before selecting products.
Halal industry in need of better regulation
The current law is not robust enough to protect consumers choosing Halal products when it comes to halal claims however, simple contamination with pork is an easy offence to follow by enforcement action. This calls for better self-regulation by halal certification organisations and importantly for them to have competent staff, effective systems and checks to protect against an industry fraught by higher levels of fraud to address this issue.
It’s important that consumers understand this recent problem relates to meat-processed products only that were tested. The products lines tested that have been revealed were not labelled as halal.
Unfortunately, it may only be from the fall out of this investigation that the Muslim community discovers it too has been affected by this recent issue. To some this is very disappointing but this may impact on the future of sales and economic input that drives the industry.
Our advice to consumers is in line with the faith teachings, to avoid doubtful products until evidence is provided that the product is in fact halal. To ensure consumers purchase products certified as halal and ask questions of the certifer or company that pork is not processed on the same line.
The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) said yesterday that it had launched an urgent investigation into how the contamination had occurred, and was holding a meeting with food industry representatives to “discover the extent of the potential problem and to investigate how this contamination might have occurred”. We are anticipating a reply to confirm if halal products lines have also been affected if produced on site and if any products produced/tested at the sites implicated had products/brands that were labelled as halal.