Halal meat contamination: who is to blame?

By Naved Syed

Halal operator Naved Syed argues that in the recent contamination of halal meat in prisons, the certifier of the meat must be held accountable

The Ministry of Justice is being sued over the contamination of halal meat in prisons, Justice Minister Jeremy Wright told MPs recently.

A "small number" of claims have been filed and would be "robustly defended where appropriate", Mr Wright said in response to a parliamentary question from Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan.

In my view, one of the main problems is the halal certifier, which in this case happens to be the Halal Food Authority (HFA). It has taken no responsibility for the case, except to say it has taken its certification away from the supplying company, although it claims to be a halal regulator for the food industry.

Its claim is that its organisation has been empowered by Defra and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to regulate and to issue official Muslim slaughterman licences into abattoirs.

However, Defra has confirmed: "There has been no change to the way licences are issued under the Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995 (WASK) in England. New arrangements have been introduced in Scotland since 1 January 2013 under the Welfare of Animals at the Time of Killing (Scotland) Regulations 2012.

"As far as approved slaughterhouses in England are concerned, all licences are issued by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) following an assessment of competence by the Official Veterinarian. The HFA therefore has no role to play in this process and any ‘licences’ issued by them to individual slaughtermen would not meet the licensing requirements set out at Schedule One of WASK.

"This arrangement will continue until the Welfare of Animals at the Time of Killing (England) Regulations 2013 are laid before Parliament later in the year. As with Scotland, new arrangements will be introduced in England in due course. No final decisions have been taken on the new arrangements that will apply in Egland and ministers are still considering the comments received following the consultation, which ran for six weeks to 24 October 2012. It would therefore be premature for the HFA to claim to be issuing any form of licence under these new arrangements.

"As far as the HFA claim to be regulating halal food and drink on behalf of FSA and Defra is concerned, neither Defra or FSA have powers to authorise HFA or any other halal certification body to act for them in this capacity."

I think this makes it clear that the only regulation or guidance that should be followed for halal is the Guidance Note issued by FSA and not these certifiers, as all these certifiers can do is remove their certification.

Many certifiers also claim they have been going for many years, yet when checks are made about their limited status that paint a different story, they all hide behind the trademark.

On the question of "How far does the duty of care towards feeding Muslim prisoners extend?", it could be argued that the Prison Service (ie Her Majesty’s Government) exercised its reasonable duty of care in that it served halal-certified food to Muslim prisoners. It would be unreasonable for the Prison Service to examine the halal-certified food beyond relying on the label that the food was halal; it was not the fault of the Prison Service and it cannot be held liable.

However, the Prison Service and the prisoners involved do have a claim against the halal certifying authority – in this case the HFA – for certifying food as halal when it was clearly not. It contained pork. The prisoners could demand that the Prison Service claim on behalf of the prisoners against the HFA for substantial compensation, since the prisoners ate food which violated their religion in breach of their religious conscience.

The likes of 3663 and Her Majesty’s Prison Service relied heavily on their certifier to guide them and ensure the prison inmates had halal food and did not violate religious beliefs. As such, the certifier should be held accountable.


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