By Hamed Chapman
Muslims are seeking resolute action from the Government, the Food Safety Agency (FSA) and Halal food authorities following pork contaminated Halal products being supplied to Muslim inmates in prison.
The scandal, coinciding with the wider discovery of horse meat in general beef products, has alarmed the Muslims at a time when the community faces discrimination and intense psychological pressures due to the so-called war on terror.
The FSA is reportedly considering legal action after the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) revealed meat pies and pasties supplied to prisons in England and Wales were labelled as Halal but contained traces of pork DNA. But it took several days before McColgan’s Quality Foods of Northern Ireland were identified as the supplier.
The Strabane-based company was only named by food distributors 3363 following repeated demands by The Muslim News Editor, Ahmed J Versi, in a series of TV and radio interviews that the supplier be identified amid fears that contaminated food may have been supplied to other distributors and outlets.
“The Food Standards Agency it seems has not been stringent enough. This is not the first time pork contaminated Halal food has been given to Muslim inmates in prison,” Versi warned. “There may be contaminated food distributed by other distributors from the same suppliers.”
“Muslims need to be reassured by the FSA that the food distributed by the same suppliers through other distributors will be withdrawn too and investigated.”
Food distributor 3663, originally identified for supplying the contaminated products, has 23 depots and 4 regional distribution centres in the UK. These include hospitals, schools, care homes, hotels and cafes among its many clients. “3663 would like to clarify that the very small number of Halal Savoury beef pastry products that have been withdrawn from supply were only ever distributed to custodial establishments,” said the suppliers and gave assurance that the food manufacturer, McColgan’s have not “distributed to any other customer. All Halal products from this manufacturer have been withdrawn.”
Versi said that the FSA, which has launched an investigation with the MoJ, has to “win the trust” of the general Muslim community. “The FSA has to give extra reassurance that they will now be more vigilant on monitoring Halal products to ensure they are Halal.”
Secretary of State for Justice, Chris Grayling, said that he wanted to reassure the Muslim Community that the concerns about the Halal pies and pasties are “something that I have taken extremely seriously.”
He told The Muslim News that as soon as the Government were made aware of the potential contamination advice was sought from the Prison Service Muslim Advisor about the implication for Muslim prisoners and agreed a way forward. “As a matter of urgency we quarantined all Halal pies and pasties from the supplier, informed all Governors and sent a note to all prison Imams.”
“There was never any cross-contamination in any prison kitchens – it was from one supplier and we have now stopped all products from them. We are also more generally looking again at the description of all processed food supplied to prisons.” Grayling said.
“It is crucial that we preserve the integrity of Halal food in prisons and provide Muslim prisoners with the confidence that they are eating certified Halal food. We are taking every action to ensure this situation does not happen again.”
Although Muslim inmates cannot be blamed for eating contaminated food as they were not aware and had trusted the prison authorities that they were providing Halal products, fears are that the loss in trust will take time to rebuild as suspicions linger about whether food supplied in prisons is really Halal.
A major concern is that McColgan’s was a Halal certificated caterer and has led to calls for the need for one single body. Muslim Council of Britain Deputy Secretary General, Dr Shuja Shafi, said it was also time for Muslim certification bodies to equally restore the trust deficit.
“Rather than playing down such incidents, Halal certification bodies should reflect and work together to improve regulation of the industry, these kinds of comments only undermine all our efforts to improve regulation,” he said. Editorial p2