Police close Ajinomoto factory in East Java

One factory of Japanese firm PT Ajinomoto Indonesia is shut down and top company officials arrested, after product is found to be pork-tainted.

Indonesian police have shut down a major factory in East Java producing a widely-used flavour enhancer, after it was discovered that its products contained a pork-based enzyme banned by Islamic law.

Police sealed off the factory in the Mojokerto district, near Surabaya, on Saturday and forced its 4,500 workers to go home.

Top officials of the Japanese firm PT Ajinomoto Indonesia, which produces the monosodium glutamate-based seasoning, were also arrested on Saturday night by the authorities due to concerns about a “violent backlash” from religious zealots in the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

“This is a very sensitive matter for many Muslims,” said a senior police officer.

“If we don’t act firmly against the producers, then people will take matters into their own hands. We don’t want them to start burning down factories and supermarkets.”

Several radical Muslim groups, he noted, had already taken a hard line against public places of entertainment such as discos, karaoke and massage parlours.

Meanwhile, policemen have also been deployed at the factory amid growing threats to burn it down.

Several other factories and officers of PT Ajinomoto are also being guarded by hundreds of police personnel for fear that they would be attacked.

Said police spokesman, Brig-General Salleh Saaf: “People are very emotional about this. We must secure the factories against all threats.”

The Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI), the country’s highest authority on Islam, has been pushing a hard line on the matter for the last two weeks.

MUI, which certifies foodstuff, said that while the final product is “halal”, or permissible for consumption by Muslims, it is forbidden to use pork products in the manufacturing process.

The Islamic body had written to the Director-General of Drugs and Food Supervision and the Ministry of Religious Affairs late last month warning that monosodium glutamate products “may have been contaminated with an enzyme originating from pork fat”.

It urged the government to withdraw certain Ajinomoto products made and distributed before Nov 28.

Brig-Gen Salleh told The Straits Times that this was already under way.

Police, MUI, and the health and religious ministries were pooling resources to get rid of 3 million kg of the product nationwide.

“We have to get them all of the shelves before Jan 20,” he said. “The government has given us that deadline.”

He disclosed that police had already arrested six Ajinomoto officials, including a Japanese technical director, Yoshiko Togama, in connection with the scandal.

Several of them, including the general manager Yusi Purba, had been on the run until the police closed in on them on Saturday night.

The police spokesman said that they faced a maximum five-year jail sentence if found guilty.

Several of them had already admitted deceiving the public into believing the product was halal, he added.

Mr Tjokorda Bagus Sudarta, general affairs and personnel manager of PT Ajinomoto, admitted that the company had used bactosoytone – which is extracted from pork – in place of polypeptide, which is extracted from beef, as a medium to cultivate bacteria which would produce the enzyme needed in the production of the taste enhancer.

The firm had done this because it was “more economical”.

But it maintained that pork enzymes were used only as a medium and not in the final product.

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