Canada: Government to impose new labels, but not new standards, on halal food

By – iPolitics

imagesFaced with a rapidly growing demand for halal food permitted under Islamic law, the Canadian government is moving to change the labels required but is stopping short of adopting a standard.

According to proposed regulations published in this week’s Canada Gazette, all food that advertises itself as halal would have to list on the packaging which body certified it meets the criteria under Islamic law.

However, the government said it can’t move to adopt a standard for halal until Canada’s Muslim community can agree on what that standard should be.

“Canadian Muslims would ideally want the CFIA to establish regulatory controls over halal products through a standard,” the Canadian Food Inspection Agency wrote in its notice of the proposed regulations. “Regulating halal products through a standard is not feasible as there is currently no consensus among stakeholders on a common standard. The CFIA therefore proposes to establish regulatory requirements that would assist in providing consumers with sufficient information to choose their halal products based on what fits their definition of halal.”

The proposed regulations come as demand for halal food has been been rapidly growing in Canada along with the size of the country’s Muslim population, which is increasing at an annual rate of 13 per cent, officials wrote, adding, “Consumer demand for halal food products is expected to increase as well.”

The market for halal foods is currently estimated at $1 billion and is becoming an attractive market for more and more businesses.

“Increasing demand for halal food products is accompanied by an increase in the number of businesses venturing into the halal food market as well as the number of products marketed as halal as businesses aim to benefit from this thriving industry.”

However, with businesses flooding into the market, it is becoming harder for Canada’s Muslims to know for sure whether a product truly qualifies as halal, officials said.

“Currently, it is difficult for consumers of halal food to make informed purchase decisions without knowing the standards used in certifying the food product as halal.”

But while the proposed change will provide consumers with more information, the CFIA says it isn’t going to set standards for halal or set out requirements for those who certify something is halal.

“This proposed regulatory amendment would not modify food safety requirements for foods labeled as halal. However, letting consumers know who certified the food as halal would enhance the information available to them in order to make informed choices. It will be up to the consumer to determine whether or not the certification requirements meet their expectations with regard to halal.”

The government estimates costs to food manufacturers would be low and companies would have two years to implement the new labeling. It said some businesses are already voluntarily adding a halal claim to their packaging and seeking certification as a marketing strategy.

The CFIA will enforce the new rules as part of its label verification system and checks on labels on imported products will be done at the level of registered establishments and importers.

The benefits of the move outweigh the costs, officials wrote.

“Potential benefits include increased consumer confidence in halal-labeled products, fewer consumer complaints, increased demand for halal-claimed food products and increased demand for certifying services provided by halal certifying bodies.”

Those who want to comment on the proposed regulations have 30 days.