Under current FDA regulations, gelatin must be listed as an ingredient if it is used, but the label is not required to detail the animal the gelatin is derived from. This means Muslims and Hindus could have unknowingly eaten pork or beef for years.
Consumption of beef is taboo for Hindus, who view cows as sacred. Pork consumption is forbidden in Islam.
It is unclear why attention has turned to this issue now, but Hindus have called on the FDA to mandate food companies to reveal the source of gelatin on packaging.
Hindu statesman Rajan Zed called the issue a “serious non-disclosure” that could upset Hindus, who may have inadvertently eaten beef-tainted food. Zed said it was “shocking” for the Hindu community to learn that popular items, including sweets, chewing gum and snack bars, could contain beef-derived gelatin that is not declared on food packaging. He added it was “hard to comprehend” why the big behemoths of the food industry were not “transparent enough” to mention beef under the ingredients section of their packaging.
He said the Dutch-British corporation Unilever told him gelatin “is used in some of our products to provide a lower-fat, lower-calorie product with a pleasing texture and consistency… We cannot guarantee if the gelatin is derived from beef or pork.”
Gelatin is made using a by-product of beef, chicken fish or pigs, and food manufacturers use it as a gelling agent in food. While animal-derived gelatin is more popular, there are plant-based alternatives, such as seaweed extract.
The FDA could not be reached for comment at the time of writing.