A leader of Ireland’s Muslims has warned that the discovery of pork DNA in halal products could damage the reputation of Irish meat.
Tyrone food company McColgan’s and distributors 3663 withdrew products after pork traces were found in pies meant for English and Irish jails.
Pork is strictly forbidden by Islamic dietary rules.
Dr Ali Saleem said on RTE’s Morning Ireland that for a Muslim, eating pork was “equivalent to taking drugs”.
He said Irish beef had a “wonderful reputation among Muslims in Britain and Ireland” but it would now have to be tested by the Muslim community’s own agencies.
The Food Standards Agency NI, however, said no pork meat was found in halal products meant for prisons in England and Wales.
County Tyrone food company McColgan’s and distributors 3663 withdrew products after traces of pork DNA were found.
The tests were carried out following the discovery of horse meat in beefburgers produced in County Monaghan.
The burgers had been on sale in the UK and the Republic of Ireland.
McColgan’s and 3663 said they were co-operating with the Food Standards Agency.
Gerry McCurdy of the Food Standards Agency said the matter “was not being treated as a public health issue”.
“There is no evidence at this point in time to suggest we are dealing with food safety matters,” he said.
“This isn’t about meat as we would know it being found, this is about DNA at very, very low levels being found in product.
“This can be caused by very minute particles, by presence of possible bloods and liquids presence.
“So there is a whole range of ways in which DNA can actually be present and can cross-contaminate onto the actual meat that is in the produce.
“This is primarily a matter of ensuring that consumers have the information they require to make informed choices about the products that they are buying.”
Mr McCurdy said the two companies concerned, McColgan’s and 3663, were very proactive in relation to their responsibilities.
“Once they became aware that they had got batches of product that was contaminated with DNA, they immediately quarantined and recalled all of that produce from sale.
“So consumers need to be aware that this produce was destined specifically for the custodial premises in England and Wales only.
“That product was not on sale to the general public or other institutions.”
He said a “UK-wide meeting of stakeholders would be held on Monday afternoon to make industry representatives aware of their responsibilities.
He said the food chain was “an extremely long and complex one”.
“Foodstuffs and ingredients come from a whole range of sources and a whole range of countries.
“At this point in time we don’t know what was the contributing factor that brought that DNA into contact with the halal meat.
“That investigation is ongoing by our colleagues in Strabane District Council working with us and working with the industry.”
BBC NI agriculture reporter Richard Wright said: ” This does not appear to be a deliberate attempt to introduce another meat.
“What were found were traces of pig DNA in meat products, as a result of ultra-sensitive DNA testing.
“Traces can be detected at levels below 0.5 per cent.
“The most likely explanation is that it was as a result of accidental contamination within the factory, which also makes pork based products.”
Food safety officials in the Irish Republic discovered the presence of horse meat in beefburgers during tests carried out late last year.
The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) said the meat had come from two processing plants in the Irish Republic – Liffey Meats and Silvercrest Foods – and the Dalepak Hambleton plant in Yorkshire.