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Issue 286, Friday 22 February 2013 - 12 Rabi' al-Akhar 1434

Can of worms in food chain

The discovery of pork contaminated Halal products being supplied to Muslim inmates in prison is alarming. It coincides with the scandal of horse meat in general beef products that suggests there is something desperately wrong with the food chain and its safety not only in this country but across Europe and perhaps elsewhere.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has pledged a “relentless” inquiry into horsemeat, with police raiding slaughterhouses and closing down operations. It is also reportedly considering legal action after the Ministry of Justice revealed meat pies and pasties supplied to prisons in England and Wales were labelled as Halal but contained traces of pork DNA.

Needless to say, the scandals have created grave alarm not only due to the criminality of the offences and the safety of food, but for Muslims in the trust of products labelled as Halal to meet their religious diet needs. Fears are that how far the malpractices have spread and whether it is only the tip of an iceberg that has so far been uncovered.

The issues obviously concern the Government, which only set up the FSA as an independent regulator in 2000 to separate the conflicting interests of farming and the food processing industries at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. But obviously it has not gone far enough.

The food chain is long and complex and needs monitoring at every stage. The FSA, which includes the Meat Hygiene Service, clearly needs a more robust mandate with food regulations largely enforced by local authority regulatory services. Its duty towards meeting specific dietary needs, including for ethnic groups, are also not explicit enough, while requirement on labelling must also go further.

While the issue of horsemeat has to be rightfully addressed, it cannot be allowed to overshadow the contamination of Halal food products. Certified verification is the key from slaughterhouse to table and needs to be uniform under the monitoring of an overarching independent Halal food monitoring authority working together with the FSA.

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