Industry Columnist

Nor Amin | Chairman, Global Haltech

 


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

Is pork DNA pork? This is a simple question that requires careful handling and a clear answer. 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 unique DNA, allowing 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.

DNA differences exist not only inter-species but also intra-species. Technically, this means that no two cows, pigs, fruits, vegetables, or humans (as long as they are not related by blood) have the same DNA.

The difference in DNA between humans is heavily utilized in the field of forensics, where cases of unidentified bodies are analyzed 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 DNA analysis can identify an organism’s identity, it has been highly proposed 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 to identify the animal species. If the DNA found matches a pork’s DNA, it is then decided that the product contains pork-based ingredients. The result is absolute, regardless of any part of the pig’s body part being used.

This process is important to identify the use of pork and pork by-products in any food products 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 analyzed 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 ingredients, 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 with the naked eye. DNA molecules can only be seen using a high-definition microscope and can 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 lab DNA analysis results are being pardoned and certified as not haram. They assume that DNA is a product of environmental contamination caused by pork DNA transferring through the air.

We must remember that DNA analysis identifies the ingredients during formulation and, therefore, couldn’t simply be contaminated by airborne contamination. DNA must be vaporized and turned into its gaseous state to’ fly around’ and contaminate samples. 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 that can easily occur. Laboratories generally have strict hygienic guidelines and standards to adhere to, and the occurrence of such a case is too small to even consider.

Based on the characteristics of DNA and the pork-based ingredients that contain it, a product’s positive results must be taken seriously.

UNDERSTANDING THE MATTER IS KEY

A deep understanding of DNA’s definition and the role the laboratories play is crucial to avoid misguided decisions regarding the halal status of the products being analyzed. Furthermore, science assists greatly 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 the halal itself.

LABORATORIES PLAYING THE ROLE

The laboratory itself has to maintain its integrity at the highest level, which requires it to adhere to three main criteria. The three criteria are that the labs have to be accredited ISO17025, the person in charge has to be certified by a certified authority, and the method used in analyzing must be validated according to the products being analyzed. Failing to meet those three criteria will result in a loss of trust and integrity in 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 DON’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 any one product in question through scientific evidence. The role of laboratories helps strengthen the country’s overall halal integrity.

Scientific evidence has never existed to contradict Islamic or Shariah law; rather, they 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. Instead, Science is used to strengthen 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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