Indonesia: MUI Eyes Authority Over Halal Assessment

The Indonesian Council of Ulema has urged the government to make it the only body authorized to issue halal certification, which will soon be regulated by an upcoming law.

Ma’ruf Amin, chairman of the council, also known as the MUI, made the statement after an open hearing in Jakarta on Wednesday with lawmakers from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) regarding the Assurance of Halal Products bill.

The bill has been included in the 2009-2014 legislative program, with the House of Representatives’ Commission VIII for religious affairs having been tasked with discussing the proposed law.

The bill’s deliberation, however, has been deadlocked since last year over who will serve as the authority issuing certification to ensure products meet Islamic requirements. The government wants the Ministry of Religious Affairs to handle the job, while most House factions want it to be handled by the MUI.

Ma’ruf said his organization had been involved in halal certification since 1988, when the government failed to resolve public outrage over Ajinomoto, a Japanese artificial flavoring product suspected of using porcine substances.

The MUI in 1988 established the Food, Drug and Cosmetics Assessment Agency (LPPOM), which employs experts to analyze products before they are certified halal.

After years of operation, Ma’ruf said the MUI and LPPOM — the only agency of its kind in the country — had been internationally recognized.

He said four key issues would be defined in the law: certification, labeling, monitoring and law enforcement. “Of all of those processes, we only want the halal certification — the government can take the others, that’s our final stance,” he said.

Lukmanul Hakim, LPPOM’s director, said around 610 companies had been awarded halal certification, mostly for agricultural-based products. Each company pays about Rp 5 million ($555) for the certification.

“For small- and medium-sized companies, the fee is usually paid by the local government because most of them have no money to pay for such certification,” Lukmanul said. “We’ve actually accepted many requests for food products, cosmetics and medicines to be certified. We hope that through the law, the industry can be regulated.”

Said Abdullah, a PDI-P lawmaker and member of Commission VIII, said his party would fully support the MUI’s bid to handle certification.

“I think it’s not about the MUI making money from certification, but about them having the expertise in the field,” he said.