The food safety watchdog, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) is considering legal action after the Ministry of Justice revealed meat pies and pasties supplied to prisons in England and Wales were labelled and served as Halal but contained traces of pork DNA.
The FSA said in a statement: “This is an unacceptable situation. People have a right to expect that the food they are eating is correctly described. We are considering, with the local authority, whether legal action is appropriate following the investigation.”
The agency has summoned major retailers and meat suppliers to a meeting today (February 4) to ensure they are aware of their responsibilities. “It is the responsibility of food businesses to ensure the food they sell contains what it says on the label,” it said.
The FSA tested nearly 80,000 samples of food last year. Its director Steve Wearne told the BBC: “We focus on those risks that can make people ill or worse. So, we look for arsenic, listeria and other things than can make you ill.”
The Ministry of Justice described the incident as “very regrettable”. A spokeswoman said the ministry was taking “immediate steps to suspend the contract with the relevant subcontractor”.
Justice minister Jeremy Wright said: "This is an absolutely unacceptable situation and one which we regret greatly. Clearly, this must be distressing for those affected and they can be reassured we are doing everything we can to resolve the situation. The Prison Service is investigating this as a matter of urgency."
Meanwhile, over the weekend foodservice firm 3663 named Northern Irish meat supplier McColgan’s Quality Foods as the source of the halal meat containing pork DNA, which was supplied to prisons.
A spokesman for 3663 said McColgan’s was the source of a “very small number of halal savoury beef pasty products”, which contained pork DNA.
‘Deeply regrettable and unforeseen incident’
McColgan’s said in a statement: “McColgan’s has already taken swift measures to identify, isolate and withdraw all of the products which are supplied to the Prison Service while an investigation to determine the circumstances surrounding this deeply regrettable and unforeseen incident takes place.”
Under both Islamic and Jewish law the consumption of pork meat is strictly prohibited.
Some believe Islamic law requires halal meat to be supplied from animals, which were slaughtered by hand while the slaughterer recites a verse from the Koran. Others believe that mechanised slaughter is acceptable. Last year, fast food chain KFC was involved in a row about what does and does not constitute halal slaughter of chicken.
No one from either the Muslim Council of Britain or the Jewish Council of Great Britain was available to speak to FoodManufacture.co.uk last month when asked to comment on the horse and pork contamination scandal.