3663 has said it will no longer source halal products from Northern Irish manufacturer McColgan’s Quality Foods, after traces of pork DNA were found in supposedly halal meat products supplied to prisons.

It emerged on Friday (1 February) that beef pastry products labelled halal and supplied to prisons in England and Wales through 3663 had tested positive for pork DNA, prompting an urgent inquiry by the Ministry of Justice. 3663 subsequently revealed the products came from McColgan’s Quality Foods, which is based in County Tyrone and approved by the Halal Food Authority, and said it had withdrawn all halal products made by McColgan’s and would not source any further halal products from the company. It stressed that no affected products had been distributed to any of its other customers. 

The discovery of halal products with traces of pork is just the latest mislabelling scandal involving the meat industry. Earlier in January, a survey by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland found pork traces in a number of beef burgers sold in the UK and Ireland, although none of these were sold as halal. The FSAI also found traces of horse DNA in some burgers, and one Tesco Everyday Value frozen burger whose meat content was 29.1% horse. Investigations into the source of the horse contamination continue separately.

Meat processors and retailers are meeting Defra and the Food Standards Agency today (4 February), to find a solution to what officials have termed the “unacceptable meat labelling situation”.

The FSA said the meeting would ensure everyone in the supply chain was “fully aware” of their responsibilities with regards to correct labelling. “This is an unacceptable situation, and people have a right to expect that the food they are eating is correctly described,” the FSA said in a statement. “It is the responsibility of food businesses to ensure the food they sell contains what it says on the label.” It added it was also considering with the local authority investigating the halal mislabelling issue as to whether legal action would be brought once the investigations had concluded.

Meanwhile, Defra took to Twitter to say “FSA and Defra to meet with food suppliers on Monday to discuss unacceptable meat labelling situation #halal

3663 group managing director Alex Fisher agreed the discovery of pork DNA in halal products was “a wholly unacceptable situation” which 3663 “deeply regret”. He added: “3663 welcomes the opportunity to work with the FSA and others to improve consumer confidence in traceability within the food chain.”

Beef and pork is routinely processed in the same meat processing plants, making cross-contamination the likely source of pork traces being found in beef burgers. Over the weekend, a number of British retailers confirmed new DNA tests commissioned in the wake of the horse meat scare had also uncovered traces of pork in some non-halal beef burgers.

The recent DNA discoveries have prompted a debate in the meat industry about whether tolerance levels – similar to those already in place for genetically modified materials – are needed for other species’ DNA in meat products. However, for halal and kosher products 0% tolerance towards any porcine traces is likely to be required.