Point to ponder: How genuine is halal stamp?

Sarah Abdullah | Arab News
Publication Date: 
Sat, 2009-01-03 03:00

JEDDAH: Exhibitors at the recent Halal Expo 2008 reportedly closed more than SR41.2 million ($11 million) worth of deals over the course of the three-day event and successfully ushered in a number of international players into the region’s Halal market, which is already worth an estimated SR7.8 trillion.

Products being negotiated for potential import into the Kingdom and the GCC region include snacks, vegetable oils, dairy products, health foods, fruit juices and meat products stamped with the halal signature.

However, many international companies — in accordance with plans for global expansion and to stay financially afloat in the current financial crisis — are using the halal industry to get an edge on their competitors without using or even being correctly educated on methods of Islamic slaughter.

“Ninety-five percent of American food items found in supermarket shelves in the UAE and other GCC countries are not halal even though they may be certified as such,” said Jalel Aossey, director of Midamar, a US-based international food supplier and one of the first Muslim– owned business groups to offer halal food and food-service equipment to North America since 1974.

Aossey, who was speaking at the Halal World Expo, said there is a significant flow of non-halal food items entering the local region especially from meat-supplying countries. He added that Gulf countries need tougher regulations to stop the flow.

Corrupt certifiers, he said, are also to blame for the problem as they get a taste for the money generated producing halal certificates for companies without actually performing any work. He added that he advises countries such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia to send inspectors to food producing countries to ensure proper halal standards are being upheld.

“This is nothing when you consider the huge dollar volume of food products exported to Gulf countries,” he said.

In November 2000, Mohammed Mazhar Husseini, co-founder and former executive director of Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America (IFANCA), a major halal certifying body in North America that is widely accepted as providing quality certification by many Muslim countries including Saudi Arabia, officially put in his resignation to the organization that he helped create nearly 30 years ago.

“They (IFANCA) are interested in charging fees and certifying products (as halal) and getting commission,” he said in an interview with Sound Vision, an Islamic information website.

Husseini noted that in earlier years the organization was more education-oriented and community based in offering workshops and organizing seminars on Halal food issues, something that no longer takes place. Offering more insight into the practices creating problems in the halal food industry, a book published in 2003 by Mian Riaz and Muhammad Chaudry, entitled “Halal Food Production,” agrees that a number of the products that international companies are marketing as Halal are not as permissible as one might think.

“To speed up production time, some halal slaughterhouses have begun using an integrated approach to traditional, Islamically-recognized handslaughtering,” the authors of the book said.

One method mentioned is the mechanical or machine slaughtering approach, which was first initiated by slaughterhouses in Western countries and which has gained momentum as being acceptable in other Muslim countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore.

The method consists of a Muslim pronouncing the name of Allah as he switches on a machine that inserts a cut into an animal’s neck. The problem, however, according to the authors, is that up to 30 percent of the initial incisions made to the animal by the machine does not accurately go all the way through in killing the animal the first time. There is, therefore, a second Muslim butcher standing by to re-cut the neck to conclude the procedure, causing undo suffering to the animal. The book also stated that some non-Muslim companies who are diversifying their product lines to include halal products have got round certain Islamic procedures to gain certification. “Some companies have been found to use a recording of a Muslim pronouncing the name of Allah before the butcher proceeds with slaughter,” it said.

Not only are corrupt certification methods going on in Western countries but also in the Middle Eastern and African regions, said a local businessman who asked to be anonymous. He said he once imported sheep from South Africa and although the certifying body knew that the animals were not slaughtered according to proper Islamic procedure issued a halal certification and sold the animals to him.

“I brought close to 150 sheep and wanted them slaughtered and shipped here to Jeddah for sale,” he said. “In order to speed the process of certification I offered him a bonus on top of the regular fees and was automatically issued Halal documents for export that moment,” he said.

“I do not completely rely on the certification saying that meats from abroad are halal since I recently received a package of pork meat with the halal certification documents included in the box which I thought was beef which I had ordered from Brazil,” said a meat importer based in the UAE.

“Since that time, I have decided to hire my own team of butchers and create my own production line instead of relying on imported meats for resale,” he said, adding that avoiding international brands and having the slaughtering done on premises is the best advice for consumers who want to strictly guarantee that their meats are truly halal.

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