Food standards officials ask for kosher advice after horsemeat scandal

Food standards officials have asked the Jewish community for advice on food chain transparency and safety, following the horsemeat scandal.

A meeting between community leaders and government food experts had been intended as a way of informing Anglo-Jewry about the fallout from the horse meat fiasco.

But the tables quickly turned when the Jewish delegation explained the high level of integrity associated with kosher food production and the government representatives responded by asking for help.

Jon Benjamin, Board of Deputies chief executive, and Chanoch Kesselman, Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations executive co-ordinator, met officials from the Department for Communities and Local Government, Food Standards Agency and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, in Westminster last week.

The meeting was called after Faith and Communities Minister Baroness Warsi asked for Jewish and Muslim communities to be informed of the government’s response to the crisis, which also saw some halal meat contaminated with pork products.

Officials gave a presentation about the risk of cross-contamination at meat processing plants, but stopped when they were told of the strict requirements of kosher production.

Mr Benjamin and Mr Kesselman were told of the dangers associated with switching between red meats on production lines, but their response, including explanations about how kosher meat is only ever slaughtered or processed away from machinery used for treife meat, prompted the officials to ask for guidance from the Jewish community.

Mr Benjamin said: “Defra and FSA officials were clearly impressed by the lengths to which the kashrut authorities go to make sure that meat is closely scrutinised, from farm to fork.

“Their fears about cross-contamination with horse or pig DNA were completely allayed when it was explained that kosher meat was never processed in the same plants as non-kosher meat, and that all ingredients in processed dishes, such as pies or sausages, are equally closely scrutinised.”

At the height of the horsemeat scandal last month, Manchester Beth Din administrator Rabbi Yehuda Brodie and leading kosher butchers highlighted kashrut practices in Britain as a “gold standard”.

Transparency in the kosher food chain, and the safeguards employed in shechita, guarantee that kosher meat is protected from the spiralling threat posed by confusion over food safety.

Representatives of Muslim and other faith communities have regularly turned to kosher food producers for advice.

Mr Benjamin said Jewish organisations would now share best practice information with government officials to help the wider community.

Last updated: 3:28pm, March 21 2013