Halal market expansion raises questions of Halal fraud

| 13/06/2008 | Reply

MUSLIMS CLAMP DOWN ON HALAL FRAUD

When most people go shopping for meat, they don’t put much thought into the task beyond the quality and the price. 
 
Show the same meat to observant Muslims, and they will ask you a
whole slew of questions: is the meat from an animal that can be eaten;
was it slaughtered properly; did someone say a blessing before it was
slaughtered; was it marinated in alcohol; did it come into contact with
wine?
 
The industry of halal, foods that are permitted for
consumption according to Muslim law is gaining a strong foothold – both
in the United States and beyond – and has an estimated global turnover
of $580 billion a year, catering for many non-Muslims as well as
Muslims.
 
But the swell in demand for halal products has given rise to
fraud, where companies and exporters are labeling foods as halal, when,
in fact, this is not the case.
 
The problem is causing Muslims worldwide to rethink the halal
certification process and minimize instances in which Muslim beliefs
are being exploited for the sake of a fast buck.
 
With this in mind, the World Halal Forum, which convened in
Malaysia at the beginning of May, has established an International
Halal Integrity Alliance, which aims to counter halal deception and
standardize halal regulations.
 
The alliance technically works on a voluntary basis in which
companies will adopt the IHI standards. If a halal certifier is
recognized by the IHI, this will give them more credibility in the eyes
of the consumer.
 
“This is a group of people who have no vested interest except for
integrity,” Nordin Abduallah, deputy chairman of the World Halal Forum,
told The Media Line.
 
Islam currently has some 1.5 billion followers, many of whom are
observant, and their numbers are continuously increasing. Food
manufacturers have a vested economic interest in labeling a product
permissible for consumption by Muslims, since it can boost the sales
considerably.
 
Up until now there has been no centralized body that defines the standards of halal and accredits certification organizations.
 
The lack of order in the halal certification industry has been
problematic in some countries, including the Middle East, home to a
significant percentage of the world’s Muslim population.
 
The U.S., surprisingly, has a relatively good record on halal
certification, but there have been problems there too, and Muslims are
now trying to make the process more systematic.
 
“Especially now, with the devaluation of the U.S. dollar, there’s
an increase in demand for American goods in the Muslim world,” says
Jalel Aossey, director of business development at Midamar, a U.S.-based
company which manufactures and exports halal foods.
 
Manufacturing companies are supplying to the Middle East and they are seeking halal certification, he says.
 
While truth in labeling laws in the U.S. is quite stringent and
any false information can involve heavy penalties, the laws regarding
food exports are more lax. 
 
Aossey explains that, “Many exporter consolidators buy American
food products that are knowingly not halal and they will put either a
sticker on it or they will get a supposed halal certifier that will
give them a certificate. That certificate is separate from the product
and they send that product overseas. The importer, in Arab countries in
particular, needs that certificate in order to clear the goods and show
that it’s halal.”
 
The vast majority of U.S. food products are not identified on
their packaging as halal, he says. However, the certificate will say it
is a halal product slaughtered according to Muslim law and that slip of
paper makes the products permissible for Muslims.
 
“You can go to any supermarket in the Middle East and find
American goods that are being sold as halal, but you would never find
that product sold as halal in the United States,” Aossey says. “I think
it would be shocking if people really knew how few products are
actually halal in this part of the world that are being sold as such.”
 
Consumers in the Middle East are becoming increasingly aware of
this problem and are being asked to play a more active role in
determining what is permissible according to Islamic law.
 
Midamar is creating a consumer organization, which will contact
American food manufacturers and ask them in writing whether their foods
are halal or not. It is a relatively simple process to find out whether
a certificate is legitimate or not, Aossey says.
 
If the American manufacturer says it does not produce halal
products, but it is reaching countries overseas as halal, this
indicates that someone in the U.S. is “making” the product halal before
it leaves the country.
 
In some ways, the halal industry is learning from the Jewish
kosher industry, in which products have to be identified as kosher
directly on the packages.
 
“The product is only kosher if identified with the seal on the
package. They do not accept paper certificates for obvious reasons, as
the halal industry is learning now,” Aossey says.
 
Surprisingly, Southeast Asian countries and not the Middle East
are spearheading efforts to make the halal certification more regulated.
 
In Malaysia, for example, there is already a system in place where
a consumer can pull a product off a shelf in the supermarket and send
the number of the barcode in a text message to a central database. The
consumer then receives a text message back informing him or her whether
the product is registered with the Malaysian halal certification
authority or not.
 
Halal fraud can be done with malice or it can be purely accidental, Abdullah says.
 
“Maybe there are some clever marketing people who want to put a
halal logo on a product because it then sells better in the Middle
East, without knowing what this really represents,” he says.
 
“The other level is people who know there are pork-based
components in the product and do it anyway. Every few weeks we find a
company that does that. We think that with the increase of Internet
usage those companies will find it’s not worth the risk, because people
send an e-mail out, and the information gets around very quickly.”
 
On the other hand, Abdullah says, this is being abused for
purposes of slander, where people will accuse a company – perhaps a
competitor – of halal fraud when in fact there is nothing wrong with
their conduct.
 
“The International Halal Integrity Alliance is playing an
increasingly regulatory role because it protects the companies that are
doing things properly and it also protects the consumer,” he says.
 
Aossey believes that while some people in the industry are
intentionally practicing deception, there is also a lack of education
about what it takes for a food product to be halal certified.
 
“Some companies think it’s just paperwork. They don’t understand
there’s a true process from the slaughter to the processing,” he says.
 
What is halal?
 
Halal is an Arabic word meaning permissible, and refers to
anything permitted according to Shari’a, or Muslim law, as opposed to haram, which means unlawful or forbidden.
 
The word halal is usually used in the context of foods that are permitted for consumption by Muslims.
 
The Quran, the holy book in Islam, instructs followers of Islam as to what is haram.
 
“Forbidden to you (for food) are: dead meat, blood, the flesh of
swine and that on which hath been invoked the name of other than Allah,
that which hath been killed by strangling or by a violent blow, or by a
headlong fall or by being gored to death; that which hath been (partly)
eaten by a wild animal unless ye are able to slaughter it (in due
form); that which is sacrificed on stone (altars); forbidden also is
the division (of meat) by raffling with arrows; that is impiety.”
 
(The Quran, Al-Maida, Sura 5 verse 3, translation published by the Amana Corporation, 1989)
 
Based on this source and other scriptures, The Islamic Food and
Nutrition Council of America (IFANCA) outlines the following as foods
that are haram, and not permitted for consumption by Muslims:
 
  • Swine or pork and their by-products
  • Animals improperly slaughtered or dead before slaughtering
  • Animals killed in the name of other than Allah (God)
  • Alcohol and intoxicants
  • Carnivorous animals, birds of prey and land animals without external ears
  • Blood and by-products of blood
  • Foods contaminated by any of the above products
 
Food containing ingredients such as gelatin, enzymes and emulsifiers are mashbouh,
or questionable, because the origin of these ingredients is unknown and
more information is needed in order to categorize them as halal or
haram.
 
For the meat to be halal, some rules must be followed in the
interest of animal welfare: the animal must be fed as normal and given
water prior to slaughter; the animal must not witness another animal
being slaughtered; the knife must be razor sharp and must slit the
animal’s throat from vein to vein with one swipe; and the slaughterer
and the animal should be facing Mecca.

Category: Food Manufacturing, Halal Integrity

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