By Lucy Barbour, Anna Vidot and Chris Uhlmann, ABC News, Australia
The ABC has obtained documents which show that 10 meat processing companies including JBS, Teys, NH Foods Australia and Nolan Meats fear that the current system is causing “market access failures” and “continued loss of confidence” in Australian beef by consumers in Muslim countries.
The companies met with the Department of Agriculture recently in Melbourne to discuss the need for reform, and want the entire halal slaughter and certification system to be overseen by the Federal Government.
Currently, meat processors who export to Middle Eastern countries have no control over who certifies their meat for particular markets.
Instead, Muslim countries decide which individual or company can certify meat as halal.
The group argues that it has led to a monopoly, leaving them open to the risk of losing market access at short notice if a certifier falls out of favour with the importing country.
They say containers of beef ready for shipping sometimes have to be cancelled, relabelled and redirected when an importer suddenly decides it would prefer to buy meat certified by a different company.
National Farmers’ Federation president Brent Finlay said he hoped the Government listened to the processors’ concerns.
“There’s certainly a role for the Government to work with industry to actually arrive at what is the best and most sustainable and effective way to certify a product,” he said.
“And we know that within the beef and dairy sectors, in non-tariff trade barriers, which are protocols, it’s about $2.7 billion worth of lost opportunity.”
Halal Australia chief executive Dr Muhammad Kahn said he empathised with the problems raised.
“There might be some certification bodies where they don’t follow the proper procedures according to the importing country’s government,” he said.
“They may be delisted or deregistered and that needs to be addressed. It can create a huge logistical problem for the companies like Teys or JBS or any other companies like that.”
But he did not agree with the proposal to make the Federal Government the sole certifier of halal beef.
“There might be a kind of monopoly from that perspective as well,” he said.
“Secondly, if the Government is taking the responsibility to certify, that may not necessarily be accepted by the foreign countries because of uncertainty about following these Islamic law requirements in terms of dealing with the halal status for the red meat industry.”
Last year, 65 per cent of Australia’s beef was exported, and markets like Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia are important for the local meat industry.
Halal slaughter methods require that the animal is pre-stunned but still alive when its throat is cut, meaning all the blood leaves the body.
The practice and certification has been the subject of increasingly controversial arguments.
Earlier this year, Nolan Meats was the target of an online anti-halal campaign which accused the Gympie meat processor of passing on the cost of halal certification to all consumers, regardless of whether they wanted halal meat.
Halal certification is currently the subject of a Senate inquiry led by Liberal senator Cory Bernardi.
The ABC contacted meat processors but none were available for comment.
The Department of Agriculture has confirmed the meeting with processors took place late last month and that halal certification was discussed.