Gelatin comes from horses, cattle and pigs, by rendering of skin, connective tissue and bone. It is used in the food industry (~70,000 tonnes per annum in Europe), as an emulsifier, texturiser and gelling agent and in the pharmaceutical industry (~20,000 tonnes per annum in Europe). It is also used in cosmetics and for micro-encapsulation of synthetic vitamins. You may also be surprised to discover that it is in MMR and Influenza vaccines. It is a component of some plasma expanders, given to patients to raise blood volume in medical treatment.

What this means to the consumer is that 'ordinary' foods, such as bakery products, low-fat spreads, desserts, jams, conserves, confectionery (e.g. sweets and bars) etc. may well contain gelatin, with obvious implications for vegetarians and vegans, religious communities and potentially for health. Sometimes, because of this subtle and occult manufacturing process, staff in a restaurant, for instance, won't even know whether it is in certain meals or menu items. Vaccination and some medical treatments can have similar implications.

The current Irish embarrassment, over the pig food contamination with dioxin/PCBs, may have health implications for consumers of manufactured foods, bakery products, confectionery, ice creams and artificial vitamins, along with recipients of vaccination, plasma expanders and some other medical treatments. With such high usage of gelatin, in various industries, the 'risk list' doesn't stop there. It is not necessary to eat pork, bacon, ham or sausages, to end up with products of pig carcases in your mouth.

Of course, when we learn that the Irish contamination happened in a plant processing bakery waste and confectionery waste for pig food, we realise that pigs are being fed pig gelatin, via this circuitous route. Gelatin probably also ends up in many proprietary animal feeds, in manufactured vitamin supplements, including horse, sheep, cattle and pig foods but it is nearly impossible to find out for certain. For strictly herbivorous species, such as horses, sheep and cattle, this is clearly very unwise and unattractive. For pigs also, cannibalism is not only unattractive, it is potentially unhealthy. After the BSE fiasco, one might have hoped that forced cannibalism in food animals would have ceased.

Manufacturing and labelling are still far from open transparency and clarity. As is so often the case in life, despite the so-called 'nanny state', buyer beware - caveat emptor!

[Why not take a look at , while you're here?]