Muslim inmates have been unwittingly eating pork in the latest scandal to hit Britain’s tainted food industry.
Prison pasties and pies labelled as Halal - where meat is slaughtered by hand and blessed by the person doing the killing - contained traces of pig DNA, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) confirmed.
Both the FSA and Ministry of Justice initially refused to name the UK supplier, but it has now emerged it was 3663 - a leading wholesale food distributor to 60,000 British restaurants, hotels and catering firms.
Under Islamic law, Muslims are strictly forbidden to eat pork, and Justice minister Jeremy Wright said the incident was "absolutely unacceptable" and prison bosses were investigating "as a matter of urgency".
A spokesman for 3663 said the company was "shocked" to find five of its Halal beef pastry products contained pork and they had been immediately withdrawn from sale.
He said they had been supplied to prisons and nowhere else, and had come from McColgan Quality Foods Limited, a Northern Ireland-based company accredited by the Halal Food Authority.
"This is a wholly unacceptable situation and one that we deeply regret," the spokesman added.
He said 3663 - the numbers corresponding to the letters “FOOD” on a telephone number pad - carried out the tests after initially fearing the five products may have contained horsemeat. Instead they contained pork.
It comes after beef burgers sold by Burger King and some supermarket chains were found to contain horsemeat. An extra value burger flogged by Tesco contained nearly a third horsemeat, leading the retail giant to give full-page apologies in national newspapers.
The Ministry of Justice said the results of the tests became known on Thursday. It has not been disclosed how long inmates have been eating the pork-tainted products for.
A spokesman said: "All prisons have been informed about this very regrettable incident and we reported this issue to the Food Standards Agency immediately."
The FSA is now investigating whether the contaminated meat pies - which were labelled and served as Halal - were distributed more widely across the UK.
Editor of the Muslim News, Ahmed Versi, said the development was disturbing.
"This is very serious because no Muslim would ever eat pork meat - anything to do with pork - and it must be very distressing for those in prison who have been given this meat to realise they may have been eating food which was contaminated with pig," he told the BBC.
COMMENT: People have a right to know what food they are eating, and retailers and suppliers have a duty to describe their products correctly, and should not be allowed to cut corners by secretly padding out food with cheaper meats to boost profits.
There is little doubt the latest lapse will have offended and distressed high numbers of Muslim prisoners and their families, and will be another serious blow to the British food industry, which already has the stench of Soylent Green surrounding it.