By Heath Aston, The Sydney Morning Herald
A number of witnesses who fronted the Senate’s inquiry into third party food certification, including figures from within the halal certification industry itself, called for Australian consumers to be given more clarity on halal and the ability to make “informed choices”.
While all export beef to key Asian and Middle Eastern markets is certified and labelled as halal in a scheme overseen by the government, the same meat is often sold in domestic butchers and supermarkets without any labelling and without government oversight of the dozens of certifiers.
The Senate inquiry, driven by conservative Liberal Cory Bernardi, who once referred to halal as a “racket”, will publish its report and recommendations as soon as Tuesday.
The inquiry received more than 1400 public submissions, with most reflecting the view of anti-halal campaigns that the certification process is a “religious tax” that funds the expansion of Islam and the promotion of sharia law.
The inquiry did not hear significant evidence to back up claims by campaigners that halal “funds terrorism” in other countries and Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce has warned that a ban on halal certification could render the meat export industry “unviable” and cost thousands of jobs in the meat and farm industries.
Abdul Ayan, a halal expert who wrote the book Accessing the Global Halal Market, told the inquiry that “95 per cent cent of submissions you have received are submissions of hate, conflict and prejudice, which are unworthy for a Senate committee”.
But he also acknowledged that halal certification “has many deep-seated problems”.
“Their audit and supervision as well as their service provision are poor. There are also credible reports that some engage in corrupt, unethical and improper practices,” he said.
“The system allows them to do so and some therefore take full advantage of it. Halal certification has been widely described by leading members of the Muslim community, aptly in view, as a cash cow whose function is to collect as much money as possible in exchange for little or no provision of services beyond signing and issuing certificates.”
Mr Ayan said by contrast with exported red meat, “there appears to be no standards or compliance programs for packaged and bottled halal products”.
Kirralie Smith, who runs the Halal Choices website, said consumers were frustrated with the lack of choice and information on halal certification of common products.
She said some manufacturers had paid for halal certification to ensure sales in one part of the market, then refused to label clearly when selling on mainstream supermarket shelves.
The report’s recommendations will be closely watched by a number of sections of society.