The world has become familiar with the police force’s CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) unit, thanks to the US television series CSI.
The police in Malaysia too has its own CSI unit, that is actually a Forensics Unit, tasked with solving serious crimes through meticulous investigation and exhaustive laboratory work. The same concept has become the basis on which Technology Park Malaysia(TPM) developed the world’s first Halal CSI (Contamination Scene Investigation) unit to solve cases where halal certified products are found contaminated with porcine DNA.
The halal issue is often subjected to heated debate in Malaysia. Halal is defined as what is lawful or permissible according to Islamic law. The most notable incident this year regarding the halal status of a product is that of certain Cadbury chocolates sold in Malaysia.
In the analysis by the Health Ministry on chocolate samples by Syarikat Cadbury Confectionery, it was revealed that there was porcine DNA in the samples of Cadbury Milk Chocolate and Cadbury Milk Chocolate with Hazelnut. However, the results were contested through another analysis by the Department of Chemistry, a laboratory recognised by the Islamic Development Department (Jakim). It verified that there was no porcine DNA in both products.
The differing results have raised doubts in Jakim’s credibility as well as that of the company involved. This is where having a Halal CSI unit investigate the case would be useful. Not only could it help verify the existence of porcine DNA, it could also trace the source of the contamination.
TPM Biotech Manager Nor Amin Mohd Noor said determining whether the contamination was by sabotage, a formulation mistake or during post-production could help vindicate the companies involved, if they were innocent. “However, if the CSI reports found them guilty, they will be dealt with accordingly. Muslims can also rest easier knowing that a thorough investigation had been conducted on the product and companies involved”, he told Bernama.
Nor Amin, who has wide experience in halal lab analysis, drafted the idea for the unit four years ago.
“We will conduct a thorough investigation to find the source of the contamination, whether it was by sabotage, a problem in the formulation process or whether it was contaminated post-production”, he said. If evidence of foul play was present, the unit would investigate the source of the sample, its sender and those who handled the sample for testing.
Investigating the formulation process entails checking the existence of a halal community within the company, as it would ensure that every item or ingredient is screened and monitored for halalness before entering production. The absence of a halal community would require experts in the formulation field to conduct detailed investigation on every ingredient used.
He said the most difficult thing to trace was the source of contamination, as it required the expertise of many parties.
“This is similar to investigating homicide cases. After forensics discover a body, they would have to conduct detailed investigation while considering several possibilities”, he explained. In investigating irregularities in halal products, contaminants could be from outside the factory, such as the lorries used to transport the items.
“Everything has to be taken into account. Who are the driver and owner of the lorry? Has the lorry been used to transport non-halal products with porcine DNA, and if yes, was it cleaned properly afterwards. “It goes down to the smallest details”, he said.
CSI Halal will also investigate packaging and storage to see if it was susceptible to contamination. If the results were negative, CSI Halal would then start checking the laboratories that did the analysis where the porcine DNA was found.
This is to verify the procedure used during the analysis, and whether it adhered to the proper standards as well as if it was carried out by trained professionals. “No stone would be left unturned. We will submit a comprehensive report to those in charge so that it can be used by the innocent parties,” he said.
TPM has a halal science laboratory capable of running five types of analysis namely DNA testing, alcohol content testing, polypeptide tests for gelatine-based products and testing for triglycerides for emulsifiers.
It also runs analyses on fatty acids methyl esters for products based on oils and fat, in addition to offering a rapid test kit for canned and animal food products. However, there are currently only eight specialists working at the Halal Science Laboratory.
Mohd Nor Amin said the laboratory could not operate on its own and needed the help and expertise of other institutions, particularly those in transportation, formulation and policy. There was also a need for a standard operating procedure for every stage of investigation, he said.
“CSI Halal is a grand plan that requires the involvement of many parties. TPM has worked out the concept but we need the expertise of others at every point of investigation to make it happen. “We have received positive feedback from certain parties who have stated their willingness to participate”, said Mohd Nor Amin, who expects the Halal CSI unit to be fully operational in five years’ time.
He said the services offered now were basic and limited. “Many are still unable to see how this will benefit them,” he said.
TPM’s Halal Science Laboratory is recognised in Korea, Brunei and China.
Its Business Development and Corporate Services General Manager Zulkifli Fitri Ismail said such trust was due to Malaysia’s wide experience in halal certification. He added that the global halal industry was expanding rapidly as many countries started acknowledging its importance.
“China has invited us to develop its Halal Technology Park. Korea, meanwhile, has asked our expertise in helping them set up a Halal Science Laboratory”, he said. He said last year’s RM6 million allocation was fully utilised to develop the laboratory.
“We are currently developing technology to detect whether or not the meat sold in the markets that are claimed to be halal are slaughtered according to Islamic rites. “This is in response to the concerns and issues regarding the matter of late”, he said.
Originally published on www.themalaysianinsider.com