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Standards M'sia: Health Ministry lab not yet accredited to test for pig DNA

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PETALING JAYA (June 4): The Department of Standards Malaysia (Standards Malaysia) says it is in the midst of formulating a standardised method of testing for the presence of pig DNA in products since last year.
"It's really too bad that the Cadbury issue exploded before we could finish the process," its director-general Fadilah Baharin told 
On May 24, an officer from the Health Ministry had leaked a photo of a preliminary lab test result on Instagram which showed that two batches of Cadbury chocolate sampled from the market in February tested positive for traces of porcine.
However, the Malaysia Islamic Development Department (Jakim) said two days ago that tests carried out by a laboratory accredited under the department showed no traces of porcine in samples of the same batches of Cadbury chocolate.
Fadilah said there are currently 400 labs accredited by Standards Malaysia, but only 19 are recognised to carry out porcine tests; and the one used by the Health Ministry has yet to receive accreditation.
"There's no one standard benchmark in the world for porcine test, so we cannot say whose procedure is correct or wrong. Right now, Jakim should have the final say on halal issues," she added.
Fadilah explained that under a standardised method, the testing method, source of samples and result analysis would be the same.
Malaysia, she said, is set to become the first country to implement a standardised methodology for halal testing next year because the government had anticipated that such problems would arise.
The national standards body was set up under the Economic Transformation Programme to enhance the quality of Malaysian products and services for both the local and international markets.
"Our role is to bring together stakeholders, industry and academic experts, and moderate the process of drawing up a standard benchmark. The process involves lots of research to decide on the best set of procedures," said Fadilah
She noted that the test result for pig DNA involved a simple “absent or present” answer, rather than requiring the element of passing a minimum amount.
"We still don't know how the Ministry of Health's sample was contaminated. It could happen during the test when they were mixing the acid…porcine traces might be transferred via lab equipment. That's why there's a need to put in the same SOP (standard operating procedures) in labs," she said.
Health Ministry Director General Datuk Noor Hisham too explained that the lab test involving DNA amplification is extremely sensitive to contamination and the said chocolate could be have been contaminated outside of the production plant and in the lab.
"A saliva swab is enough to test for human DNA. The test on these chocolate are on an even more micro scale, so it's prone to contamination," he said when contacted. 
In the wake of the contradictory test results, he agreed that a standardised benchmark set by Standards Malaysia should apply across the board in all labs.
"All these while the Ministry of Health and Jakim are working together like the left and right arms, our collaboration also includes testing on medicine and vaccine. But I want to stress that Jakim is the authority on halal issues, not the Health Ministry.
"We only provide the expertise and complement their work." he said, adding that 30 health officers have been sub-contracted to work at Jakim.
Meanwhile, he defended the need to confirm the leaked preliminary lab report on the presence of  pig DNA in Cadbury chocolates.
"When the report leaked, everyone came to me and the health minister asking if the report is from our ministry. It's indeed ours, if we don't confirm it, the public will think we are hiding something." 
Fadilah said that a harmonised benchmark will reduce dispute of such nature when people can argue their case by falling back to a recognised accreditation.
"In this case for instance, if the lab isn't accredited by us, Cadbury can question the methodology of the lab test. Labs will need our recognition to defend their credibility. "

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