I don't trust the skills and knowledge of those working in the Chemistry Department. I had first hand dealing with them in 1994 over a case involving E.coli found in Salad. I was helping the defence lawyer to present a rebuttal of their conclusion drawn from their defective laboratory results. I can tell you that they have the tendency to jump to the wrong conclusions. When a sample was asked from them, they could not provide. I met the analyst for the first hearing but after that the same analyst had not turn up subsequently whenever the case was mentioned. This showed the lack of professional etiquette and a contempt of the court. We were ready with all the supporting documents to create reasonably doubts as to their testing methods and conclusion drawn. This case went on for a year, it was just a waste of everybody's time. The restaurant was eventually discharged without being called for its defence.
In this Tabasco with pig DNA case, could it be prearranged to create a vacuum prior to the entry of 'HALAL' Pedasco into the market?
Pedasco Takes The Heat Off Tabasco
Malaysians are used to spicy food and chilli sauces but who would have thought that the essential ingredient for Bloody Mary has been banned in some outlets in Malaysia. ‘It’ was on the menu of the American space shuttle program and has gone into orbit in the International Space Station. Sadly, ‘it’ is not a welcome condiment in Malaysian restaurants with Muslim patrons. ‘It’ is Tabasco; the sauce that is too hot to handle, let alone consume.
The reason? It contains pig deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). The sauce is made from chilly peppers (Capsicum frutescens var. tabasco), vinegar and salt, in a process that takes three years of aging in oak barrels. Did a pig fall into the oak barrel and become pickled? Could the Malaysian Chemistry Department’s equipment be contaminated with pig DNA from a previous test, or did one of the testers just stick his thumb in the sample? Perhaps this is another April Fool story. It’s not!
The first I heard of it was when some first and business class travelers using the Golden Lounge at London’s Heathrow airport were hot with rage, when they found that there was no Tabasco to lace their fried rice or char Kuay teow whilst waiting to board their flights.
As someone who flies cattle class, I would not have known that Tabasco was available on board. If I had, I would have requested a few bottles of the sauce to make the plastic food they serve in the back of the plane more palatable.
That is one of the privileges of being a journalist; you get to hear about the things that irritate first or business class passengers. So although you never get to travel in style, at least you do get to hear about the complaints.
After doing some research, it was indeed true. Tabasco has fallen foul of the strict laws governing products which Muslims consume in great quantities, thus joining the other much-loved food item, Golden Churn butter, which is another favourite with Muslims.
Readers may recall the rumours regarding Golden Churn butter in the lead-up to Hari Raya in 2011. Housewives and kek lapis manufacturers said they preferred Golden Churn despite its cost (last August a 2 kg tub of Golden Churn costs RM71) because of its smooth and creamy texture. The butter had its halal certificate withdrawn and its importers suffered losses amounting to RM6 million.
Last June, the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (Jabatan Kemajuan Islam Malaysia – Jakim) revealed that tests on HP Sauce and Tabasco Pepper Sauce, confirmed the presence of pig DNA.
As expected, the brand owners of HP Sauce and Tabasco pepper sauce, HJ Heinz and McIlhenny Company respectively, issued a statement denying that the products were not halal.
The statement read: "HP Sauce is certified halal by Halal Audit Company, an Islamic certification authority in the Netherlands where the factory is located. Heinz,which is the manufacturer of HP Sauce, has done tests for traces of pig DNA and has submitted the results to the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) and no trace of pig DNA was found".
Mcllhenny also confirmed that Tabasco was certified halal by the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America, an Islamic authority in the United States. Furthermore, the sauce is made from natural ingredients and does not contain any animal by-product.
Tabasco is made on Avery Island in Louisiana, in the southern United States. After the American Civil War, a banker called Edmund McIlhenny tried to rebuild his fortune, by marketing his homemade sauce. By 1868, McIlhenny had cornered the New Orleans sauce market. When he died in 1890, Tabasco was a recognised brand and popular in Europe. From a local family business, Tabasco is now found in over 168 countries.
The untapped halal industry has vast opportunities for domestic and international markets. With 2 billion Muslims worldwide, the global trade in halal food is estimated at around USD350 million annually.
Food is not the only commodity that can be certified halal. There are ‘halal’ financial services, drugs and cosmetics. In 1990, the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America gave halal accreditation to 23 clients. By 2006, it had around 2,000 companies worldwide.
The McIlhenny company is not a fly-by-night operation because after ageing, the straining and bottling process is highly mechanised. The question of the Chemistry department’s discovery of pig DNA in the sauce is nevertheless, perplexing.
The Wikipedia write-up on Tabasco sauce says that "Harvested peppers are ground into a mash on the same day they are harvested and then placed, along with salt, in white oak barrels (ageing barrels previously used for bourbon whiskey)...."
Everyone knows that any Wikipedia entry should not be treated as correct but should be substantiated and verified with other sources.
So is this what bothers Jakim? That the barrels used may have been old whiskey barrels. The Tabasco sauce site only mentions the use of white-oak barrels and nothing more. This still does not explain how the Chemistry department found pig DNA in the sauce though. Perhaps, the "presence of pig DNA" is a convenient excuse for banning the product.
So was an independent analysis of Tabasco done? Will the Chemistry department compare the testing methods and standards between the different laboratories to see if these are uniform? This corroboration was not done in the Golden Churn case nor in the Tabasco case.
When can we expect Jakim and food scientists to engage and agree on setting the standards for testing? Perhaps, pigs will fly before they come to a concensus.
Meanwhile, a small family based company in Perak has filled the niche left open by Tabasco. The new sauce is made by a 100% bumi company, with 100% natural ingredients and uses rubber-wood barrels to age the locally grown chillies and cuka (local vinegar).
The product is called Pedasco and can be found in supermarkets and up-market retail outlets in Malaysia. Cik Parif LoLo, the spokesman for the company says: "Discerning Muslims will find this a very piquant accompaniment to their Bloody Marys".
Suppliers for Golden Churn, Tabasco and QBB all suffered losses due to officers from Jakim who demanded extraordinary figure bribe, gambling allowances, prostitutes and free travel overseas.
Every year Jakim will scout one or two companies to make their demands. In most cases the amount are reasonable. But for the past three years the figure asked were 1) A week inspection at suppliers' plant which are based overseas for three to six officers from Jakim. Hotels five stars and travel first class. 2) Pocket allowances for gambling and women which can amount to RM60,000 per person. 3) Then more allowance in Malaysia from RM30,000 to RM48,000 per person.
So how many companies can continue to meet the demands of Jakim?