Thailand: Science urged for Halal food

Bangkok Post

Products are on display at the opening of the Hal-Q Expo at a mall. Halal food production in Thailand has increased sharply in recent years.

Thai halal food has the potential to serve a greater share of the world population, and food makers and exporters are being urged to use science and technology to cut costs and enhance quality.

Last year, Thailand ranked first in Asean in halal food exports, shipping US$4.8 billion worth to 57 countries.

Brazil is the world’s biggest exporter of halal food, followed by the US, China, India and Thailand.

“Our country still has a lot of opportunity to export more halal food in the future on the back of growing demand,” said Assoc Prof Winai Dahlan, director of Chulalongkorn University’s Halal Science Center.

Halal food accounts for 20% of global food exports, and supply is inadequate to meet demand in the world’s growing Muslim population.

Thai food makers have their strengths in quality, but many cannot compete in terms of price with firms in China, Vietnam and Indonesia.

Winai: Demand potential untapped

“So they should bring in food science and technology to help them increase their competitiveness,” said Assoc Prof Winai. “Their costs will eventually fall and food quality will be more consistent.”

He said the time has come for Thai halal food makers to upgrade themselves and use “food quality” and “uniqueness” as selling points in the global market, not cheap prices.

Many Thai halal food makers lack good logistics for exporting products to other countries, said Assoc Prof Winai.

For example, frozen shrimp shipped to Europe come with no lab test papers and insufficient information about the products.

As a result, customs officers will order all containers opened instead of a random check, and this affects food freshness as the inside temperature changes.

Assoc Prof Winai suggested Thai halal food makers apply the Hal-Q Quality Control System (Hal-Q QCS) to food production to ensure compliance with Islamic law.

When production hygiene is assured, the logistics system should have a 2D barcode (QR code) for the halal container.

The QR code includes the company, order number and container number, letting customs officials track product information by scanning the code.

The Hal-Q QCS and QR code are innovations developed by the Halal Science Center.

The 2D barcode for halal containers recently won the award for Halal Science & Innovation Excellence at World Halal Research 2012.

“Now we’re working on applying the Hal-Q system to the entire supply chain for halal food and linking information from factory, laboratory, logistics and shipping company to customs officers, seaports and airports,” said Assoc Prof Winai.

So far, some 200 food companies have obtained the Hal-Q certification from the centre.