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The recent halal food ‘scandals’ and reports of the presence of blood serums and offal in meat product tests serve to highlight several issues for the food and drink industry.
The ‘method of slaughter’ hype currently doing the rounds is highlighting the necessity of going above and beyond legal requirements when it comes to labelling. The UK government has skirted around the issue and refused to act unless a law is written in on an EU wide scale, but that doesn’t mean food manufacturers shouldn’t take it upon themselves to introduce labelling where the method of slaughter is of importance to the end consumer.
It is in the interest of many producers to consider this when redesigning their packaging – the upcoming FIR label changes may provide a good opportunity for many to introduce compliant labelling which includes information on sensitive issues.
Whatever the action taken by food and drink manufacturers they will need to be aware of the demands being made by the public. Amending labels to comply with the upcoming FIR requirements is already a costly business, having to repeat the process when legislators bow to public pressure for method of slaughter labels will leave many out of pocket.
The halal food issue widens beyond a discussion around labelling, the presence of pork DNA in Cadbury products in Malaysia seems to be sparking a ‘horsemeat’ sized scandal on the sub-continent. This is not to say that pork products were used when making the chocolate or that any actual meat was found in the bars, but clearly there is an issue to be resolved by Cadbury and paid close attention to by the food industry as a whole.
In the instances where unlabelled offal and blood have been found in food, this could be explained by a lack of understanding of the law - the inclusion of either is completely legal so long as it is labelled, in terms of offal the label must specify the type i.e. heart, tongue etc… These additions could also have been made at an early stage unbeknownst to the end manufacturer who is aware of the requirements and acting in good faith.
However, the horsemeat and Cadbury scandals evidence that a DNA trace was, and still is, enough for consumers and the media to react unfavourably.
Everything should be done to prevent cross-contamination, and many manufacturers have comprehensive training programmes, policies and practices in place to negate adulteration. The simple truth however is that all the policy and correct paperwork in the world will not placate the end customer should unlabelled ingredients end up in a product.
Supply chain audits and a comprehensive understanding of not only the provenance but the journey a product and its component ingredients take is vital. This will allow manufacturers to identify potential flaws and help pinpoint where contamination has taken place and prevent it from recurring.
In the current climate food and beverage brands would be well advised to ensure not only they but their suppliers are fully compliant, it is only a matter of time before the next ‘scandal’.