Friday prayers in mosques across Leicester are today urging Muslim parents not to let their kids eat halal meat in schools and switch to vegetarian fare instead, as tests suggest a supposedly halal burger could contain up to 50% pork – and is likely to have been contaminated deliberately.
Yesterday, Leicester city council announced a frozen halal lamb burger supplied to schools had tested positive for pork DNA and was removed from menus and freezers on 19 April.
At a meeting last night, parents and community leaders were told the pork content in the burger could be between 10% and 50%, and it was likely it had been adulterated deliberately.
The company that produced the burger – Paragon Quality Foods – did not handle any pork, so cross-contamination was unlikely, “which suggests a deliberate act somewhere along the supply chain,” a spokeswoman for the council told thegrocer.co.uk. The matter had been referred to the Food Standards Agency and DNA tests were now being run on stock produced on other production dates, she added.
Trevor Pringle, the city council director responsible for school meals, said: “We have only received the DNA test result for one burger to date, and we shared this figure with the Federation of Muslim Organisations early on in our investigation.
“This result indicated between 10 and 50% pork content. To get a better understanding of this, and to support enforcement action, we have asked for more burgers from different batches to be analysed. We expect those to be back sometime next week. We are clear however, that any level of pork content in this product is unacceptable and this has informed our approach”
“Food analysts tell us that the lower percentage is a more reliable figure than the higher end, however for the above reasons we want to be more certain.”
While investigations continue, community leaders have called on Leicester city council to take all halal meat items off school menus as a precaution, but the council has said it has only evidence of contamination concerning the one burger from one supplier. “Products from our preferred halal supplier have been DNA-tested and no concerns have been identified,” the spokeswoman said.
She added where individual schools had requested items be removed in the wake of the horsemeat scandal, the council had done so, but “very few schools have requested this”.
However, the community had now decided to take matters into its own hands and warn parents to steer clear of halal school meals altogether, said Mohammed Siddick, founder of the Tajdaar-e-Madina mosque in Leicester. “All mosques in Leicester will use Friday prayers today to tell parents to have their kids eat only vegetarian meals in school,” he said.
Siddick, who was present at last night’s meeting with the council, said trust in the standards used to produce halal meals for Leicester schools had been seriously eroded by the contamination incident.
“The message from the meeting yesterday was clear: Muslim parents have lost complete confidence in the halal standards used by Leicester, and there was a consensus that the city council needs to switch to vegetarian meals only until they find out what’s happened,” Siddick said.
The council needed to approach community leaders and work with them to put in place more robust checks and balances for halal meat, Siddick added, including “physical verification” of halal procedures instead of only written statements from suppliers.