The meat industry is assessing the problem following high-profile cases where pork was detected in halal beef products sold in supermarkets and specialised meat outlets in Norway since mid-January.
These incidents have prompted the country’s ministry of agriculture and food (MAF) to propose round-table discussions between meat producers and food retailers to generate sustainable long-term standards and solutions to eradicate contamination from halal meat production.
Mattilsynet, Norway’s food safety authority, has warned it will take swift and effective action against food producers not meeting required hygiene and production standards to guarantee non-contaminated halal meat products.
This will include more regular meat plant inspection visits and hygiene audits. "Lapses and sub-standard production facility procedures are unacceptable. In our view it is not an option for companies that want to produce ‘halal’ labelled food to not employ sufficiently reliable routines," Randi Edvardsen, food and safety department chief with Mattilsynet, told GlobalMeatNews.
There are around 150,000 Muslims in Norway, out of a population of around five million.
Pork content of up to 5% was discovered in more than 20% of 53 controlled meat quality tests on ‘halal’ conducted by Mattilsynet since 1 January. Products tested included halal beef products, such as sausage meat. All products were specifically marketed and sold as being ‘pork free’ halal meats.
The misrepresentation of halal meat products is not new in Norway, said Edvardsen. In 2013, the agency also found evidence that in some products sold as halal, pork content was as high as 30%.
Factories producing halal meat in Norway are certified by the Norwegian Islamic Council (NIC). Mattilsynet is working with the NIC to more effectively screen halal meat processing companies, to establish production procedures and identify possible sources of cross-contamination.
Mattilsynet suspects that some halal meat companies may be using the same production lines and equipment for both halal and conventional meat products, while employing sub-standard cleaning and hygiene procedures.
Since 2012, 60 Norway meat companies have applied to Mattilsynet to produce halal meats. To date, just 13 have been approved by the agency and certified by the NIC.
To produce halal meat, extremely high standards must be implemented to prevent cross-contamination with pork, said Svein-Erik Eide, a spokesman for the Norwegian Poultry Industry Association (Kjøtt- og fjærfebransjens Landsforbund).
"This can be difficult for smaller-sized producers, given that, to produce contamination free halal meat, ideally there should be no traces of pork either in the factory premise or in the food," he told GlobalMeatNews.