By Liam Mannix, Reporter, The Age
Businesses will be free to claim halal status for their products without getting religious certification under a new plan currently being worked on with the approval of Federal cabinet.
The plan is the brainchild of Queensland federal MP Andrew Laming, who claims halal certifiers are religious profiteers. Posts on his website about the plan are hashtagged “cashforclerics”.
But Mr Laming’s contribution has only made the highly contentious issue more confusing, with the food industry saying they already have the ability to claim halal status for their products without getting religious certification.
Mr Laming is keeping details of his plan largely under wraps, but he did confirm that he had “secured ministerial support” for his planned reforms, and is currently in the process of consulting with business groups.
“The current process is too expensive, is profiteering – although I don’t have direct evidence of that, I have evidence that the charges are higher than kosher which is actually a more complicated process,” he told Fairfax Media.
“We have had some evidence presented to us and we have also had certifiers concede that it is not a cost recovery process. So I feel that the current system is effectively a profit making exercise for faith based food certification.”
Under Mr Laming’s plan, food manufacturers selling on the domestic market would have the choice of obtaining halal certification from a religious body or being able to make a similar claim themselves.
“You should be able to make a claim that a food is suitable to a minority group without certification,” he said.
But the Australian Food and Grocery Council said Australian food manufacturers could already make such a claim.
“Domestically companies have these options now, including making an uncertified claim – they just need to be able to substantiate it if challenged,” a spokesman said.
“There is also a lot of misinformation here in Australia about halal certification – and any initiative that helps clear that up would be welcome.
“Halal certification can be confusing because of the number of certifying bodies, and the differing requirements of export markets.”
Mr Laming’s views line up with One Nation party leader Pauline Hanson, who called halal a “profit, money-making racket” earlier this week. PM Tony Abbott also weighed in, saying “Australians don’t have an issue with [halal]”.
Mr Laming’s plan has been promoted on his official website with the hashtag “cashforclerics”.
Asked to explain what he meant, the MP said “the certifiers themselves have admitted that the profits from Halal certification are directed back to Islamic organisations, and that’s just a statement that they have made to me.”
That claim was panned by Ahmed Kilani, who runs a Sydney halal consultancy.
The halal export industry is worth an estimated $12 billion, and he said halal certification costs in total might run to at most $10 million.
“If that’s profiteering, that’s not very good profit”, Mr Kilani said.
Mr Laming’s official Facebook page has been inundated with supporters of anti-halal movements, who lauded the plan when he announced it.
A user called No To Halal Certified, Our Choice, Our Money wrote “Great news Andrew, one step at a time mate”, to which Mr Laming replied “please share”.
“If people on Facebook make claims, my job is to look after food manufacturers in Australia and make sure they can make claims about their constituents,” Mr Laming told Fairfax Media.
Halal products are certified as being without ingredients Muslims are forbidden from eating like pork and alcohol. The certification process usually involves a site inspection by a certifying body.
A number of certifiers have been officially licensed by the Australian government for export certification, while a greater variety operate legally without official licensing in the domestic market.