By Broede Carmody, Smart Company
The Senate Economics References Committee found there is “no direct link between halal certification in Australia and terrorism funding” in its report, which was handed down yesterday.
Halal certification is not a “ritual” but instead is a “purely commercial exchange”, the report said.
The inquiry was in response to a co-ordinated social media campaign against numerous Australian brands that choose to certify their products.
Halal certification enables up to $13 billion in food exports from Australian businesses each year, however, some businesses have been forced to drop their certification after backlash from anti-halal campaigners.
Businesses producing everything from biscuits, dairy products and beer have been targeted, despite the fact that alcohol is not halal.
While the Senate committee found there was no link between halal certification and terrorism, the committee did make nine recommendations for improving the certification process.
One recommendation is to establish a single, national registered trademark for halal certified products.
The Senate committee also recommended greater government oversight into the certification process.
Peter Strong, chief executive of the Council of Small Business of Australia, told SmartCompany COSBOA welcome’s the committee’s findings.
“This is really good,” Strong says.
“Xenophobia doesn’t have a place in business. That’s what’s going on here – people are afraid of something they don’t understand and is a bit different.
“When it comes to small businesses, don’t pick on them. It makes no sense and creates another victim who has done nothing wrong. Small businesses don’t need to be victims of vigilantes.”
Strong says the Senate committee’s recommendation of establishing a single registered trademark will be welcomed by small businesses.
This is because a national trademark will create certainty and potentially streamline packaging costs.
“The thing we’ve got to watch is it doesn’t come too complicated or confusing,” Strong says.
“At the moment we get confused about Australian made, so let’s just keep it simple. We know what halal is and let’s not get complicated about it.”
The Report made seven recommendations:
Recommendation 1: That food manufacturers clearly label products which have received third party certification.
Recommendation 2: That the government, through the Department of Agriculture, consider the monitoring and compliance of halal certification of meat for export; and becoming the sole signatory on the government halal certificate.
Recommendation 3: That the government, through bilateral and multilateral forums, promote greater acceptance of a ‘whole–of-country’, government-led halal certification system.
Recommendation 4: That the government consider requiring certification bodies to register their operations under certification trademarks.
Recommendation 5: That the government consider requiring that halal certification of goods in the domestic market comply with the standard agreed for export.
Recommendation 6: That the halal certification industry consider establishing a single halal certification authority and a single national registered certified trademark.
Recommendation 7: That meat processors clearly label products sourced from animals subject to religious slaughter.
Calls for better halal regulation
AAP: There is nothing to prove halal products fund terrorism, but some certifiers are just dodgy, a Senate committee has found.
The committee has called for better regulation of the system, including clearer labelling and government intervention, in its long-awaited report into food certification.
While the inquiry looked into various forms of certification, it said it had been overwhelmed by feedback from members of the public concerned about halal products.
Some feared halal certification would impose sharia law on Australians and a significant number speculated about a link with terrorism.
But the committee said it would rely on advice from the government’s financial intelligence arm, Austrac, that no such direct link existed.
Nor did the proliferation of halal foods mean the spread of Islam, it said.
Nevertheless, the committee said that it unearthed “significant cause for concern” and reason to believe some halal certifiers were exploiting a lax regulatory system.
Committee chair, Sam Dastyari, said under-regulation allowed “questionable” conduct from “questionable” certifiers.
“There are certifiers who are nothing more than scammers,” the Labor senator told parliament.
The committee has called for halal products to have one clear trademark, one overall certifier body, and for the government to step in and monitor the scheme.
It said consumers should have enough information to make whatever choice they felt appropriate, because not all agreed with religious certification.
People had a right to make informed decisions whatever their preferences or prejudices, it said.
But it implored consumers not to resort to abusive behaviour in expressing their displeasure to companies that chose to certify products halal.
Senator Dastyari said the inquiry had encountered plenty of xenophobia, barely concealed under the guise of freedom of choice and freedom from religion.
“My staff put up with all sorts of abuse during this inquiry, and I’m sure I speak for all senators and their staff, when I reiterate that we do not appreciate being directly confronted by those types of extreme views.”
HOW THE COMMITTEE SAYS HALAL CERTIFICATION SHOULD CHANGE:
– Government monitor compliance of halal certification to ensure domestic products comply with export standards
– Halal certification industry establish a single certification authority and a single national registered trademark
-All food products should be clearly labelled
-Government consider requiring certification bodies to register their operations under certification trademarks
– A single trademark would help indicate that a product was of a particular quality or met certain standards.