Is Pork DNA still considered pork?

Industry Columnist

Nor Amin | Chairman, Global Haltech

 

| Traces of pork DNA found in food products, or any other products, raises viable concern for the Muslim community. Let’s dive into the science behind it

IS pork DNA pork? A simple question that needs careful handling and a clear answer to. To answer such an important question, we should first understand what DNA is actually.

WHAT IS DNA?

DNA or deoxyribonucleic acid is a basic molecule for an organism, and it contains the genetic code that determines the characteristics of all living things on earth. Each organism has its own unique DNA, and it allows us to identify precisely the type of organism we are studying through DNA analysis. For example, a cow’s DNA and a pig’s DNA are vastly different and will never ever be the same at any given time.

The difference in DNA doesn’t just exist inter-species but also intra-species. So technically, it means that no two cows, or pigs, or fruits, or vegetables, or humans (as long as they are not related by blood), have the same DNA.

The difference in DNA between humans is heavily utilised in the field of forensics, where cases of unidentified bodies are analysed through DNA to acquire their identity. The result of such identification will then lead to solving criminal cases. Such a possibility highlights the greatness and advancement of the discipline in science, which has enabled human beings to understand the fundamentals of the creation of Allah S.W.T.

 

DNA ANALYSIS FOR HALAL CERTIFICATION

Because of the ability DNA analysis has in identifying an organism’s identity, it has been a highly proposed solution to adopt the practice as a product’s halal status identification.

In the context of DNA analysis, the Halal status is to screen ingredients or finished products of any pork-based sources either through contamination or formulation. Unfortunately, due to the complicated formulation of products in the current market, it is impossible to identify products in the market that are free of haram based ingredients just by our naked eyes.

HOW IT WORKS

The DNA analysis process for Halal verification starts with DNA extraction from the product. Once the DNA is extracted and passes the stringent Quality Control in analysis, the process proceeds with DNA matching in order to identify the animal species. If the DNA found matches a pork’s DNA, it is then decided that the product contains the pork-based ingredients. The result is absolute, regardless of any part of the pig’s body part being used.

The importance of this process is to identify the use of pork and pork by-products in any food products existing in the market today. And to answer the argument of whether a pork’s DNA is considered pork, it is supposed to be a non-issue.

As has been taught in Islam, ‘It is haram for Muslims to consume any products that confirmedly contain pork or its derivatives. As pork’s DNA could exist in any of its body parts, a positive result of a DNA analysis clearly shows that the product analysed is confirmed to contain pork or pork-based ingredients. Based on that, we can safely say that it is haram for Muslims to consume and use any product
that have even traces of pork or pork-based ingredient, be it due to contamination or formulation.

OTHER FACTORS SAID TO AFFECT THE HALAL AND HARAM STATUS

Another factor that we need to understand clearly is that DNA is a molecule that exists at a super-fine size and is impossible to see using naked eyes. DNA molecules can only be seen using a high-definition microscope and could only be detected using scientific equipment with special techniques.

THE SIZE

The minuscule DNA size has been made a reason for some positive results of pork DNA being overlooked and ignored, which is extensive misconduct in terms of halal certification. A positive result is a positive result, and it proves that the product does contain pork or pork-based ingredients, no matter the amount or size.

THE SUPPOSED AIRBORNE CONTAMINATION

There are also cases where positive results through lab DNA analysis are simply being pardoned and are certified, not haram. They assume that DNA is a product of environmental contamination caused by pork DNA transferring through the air.

We need to bear in mind that DNA analysis is a process that identifies the ingredients during formulation and, therefore, couldn’t simply be contaminated by so-called airborne contamination. Plus, for DNA to ‘fly around’ and contaminate samples, it must be vaporised and turned into its gaseous state. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen often enough to be accepted as a cause to pardon a positive result.

PHYSICAL CONTAMINANTS

Then there is the case of physical contamination, where pork DNA might get mixed into the samples due to residual contaminants. Again, it is a possibility, but still not one to easily occur. Laboratories, in general, have strict hygienic guidelines and standards to adhere to, and the occurrence of such a case is too small even to consider.

Based on the DNA’s characteristic and the pork-based ingredients that contain the DNA itself, the positive results of a product has to be taken seriously.

UNDERSTANDING THE MATTER IS KEY

A deep understanding of the definition of DNA and the role the laboratories play are crucial to avoid any misguided decisions regarding the halal status of the products being analysed. Furthermore, science assists a lot in the authentication process, as it traces even the smallest (molecular-level) quantities of haram materials in products.

Halal authentication supported by science will definitely strengthen the integrity of halal itself.

LABORATORIES PLAYING THE ROLE

The laboratory itself has to hold its integrity at the highest level, which requires them to adhere to three main criteria. The three criteria are; the labs have to be accredited ISO17025, the person-in-charge has to be certified by a certified authority, and the method used in analysing must be validated according to the products being analysed. Failing to meet those three criteria will result in a loss of trust and integrity of the lab.

HALAL SCIENTISTS: The role of laboratories in adhering to standards and guidelines helps to strengthen halal integrity in certification

The importance of this process is to identify the use of pork and pork by-products in any food products existing in the market today. And to answer the argument of whether a pork’s DNA is considered pork, it is supposed to be a non-issue.

LAB RESULTS DOESN’T OVERRULE AUTHORITIES

One thing that needs to be made clear here is that the role played by laboratories does not replace the role of certified authorities such as JAKIM and other religious bodies in halal certification. Instead, it is to support the halal-ness of anyone product in question through scientific evidence. The role of laboratories helps strengthen the overall halal integrity of the country.

Scientific evidence has never existed to go against Islamic or Shariah law, rather complement each other. In fact, scientific evidence has never been used as the primary reference in halal authentication as all laws have already been thoroughly and comprehensively mentioned in the Quran and Hadiths. Science is instead used to strengthen further the laws mentioned in the two holy references.

Thus, the question ‘is pork DNA, pork?’ should be changed to; ‘Is that DNA, pork DNA?’

That is the importance of Halal Science; that is the value of the halal logo, which is the beauty of Islam.

Background: Global Haltech services are further strengthening with Halvec Laboratory, is an ISO 17025 accredited laboratory located in Kuala Lumpur and recognised by the Malaysian Halal Authority, JAKIM. They have established food or material sampling collection points in the Europe and USA.

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