FSA rejects responsibility for halal certification

Halal certification is not a responsibility for the Food Standards Agency (FSA), but that of halal certification bodies, an FSA report has confirmed.

FSA legal director Rod Ainsworth delivered a report outlining the organisation’s role in relation to the contamination of halal food yesterday (4 June) at an FSA board meeting.

Despite a call from the Muslim community for the government to pass legislation for halal meat preparation, Ainsworth’s report stated that “neither the FSA, nor any government department has any specific regulatory remit in relation to halal food”.

According to the report, the definition of halal food is a matter of Muslim faith and, in principle, it is for the community to decide how the legitimacy of halal food should be determined.

However, Ainsworth explained in the paper that this was not to say there was no role for regulatory enforcement action “where food is wrongly claimed to be halal”. He also noted that, in the past, the FSA had issued guidance to local authorities and this guidance, he said, “is being reviewed in the light of recent events” and is to be reissued.

Cross contamination

Prompted by recent events, the report discussed detection limits where halal meat products are concerned. It said that, on the outset of the horsemeat issue, there was a contamination threshold of 1% or below. However, Ainsworth said this was irrelevant to the halal meat sector. “For consumers of halal food the presence of any non-halal meat in food presented as halal is unacceptable,” he said.  

But it was also noted that it would not be possible, through scientific testing, to “assure the Muslim community that there is no possibility of trace or other contamination at a level” lower than the 1% threshold.

Consumer concern

Meanwhile, speaking about consumer confidence with regards to halal and non-halal meat, board member Liz Breckenridge said she could see why consumers were concerned, adding: “This looks like half of a story to me, because the other half is ‘what does halal and non-halal mean to consumers?’. And a report should have a consumer view on this topic.”

She asked whether the FSA should be looking at consumer opinion on a wider basis in general and whether the organisation was ready to enter the domain of debate. However, FSA chief executive Catherine Brown said she didn’t think there should be a large consultation about halal. “Such a process would be extremely time-consuming and it’s not clear where we would add value to it,” she said.

Breckenridge retorted that a point of view needed to be gathered, “rather than it hitting us by surprise”. She added: “What we don’t have is any kind of view about generally how consumers feel about consuming halal food and I have no idea of what the answer might be.”

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