Indonesia: MUI Mull Halal Bill’s 3-Year Stall

By Kharina Trinanda & Amir Tejo Jakarta Globe

A supervisor monitors production at a drug factory in Pasar Rebo, East Jakarta. (JG Photo/Jurnasyanto Sukarno)
A supervisor monitors production at a drug factory in Pasar Rebo, East Jakarta. (JG Photo/Jurnasyanto Sukarno)

Halal certification for medicines is very unlikely to happen in the near future, Indonesia’s health authority said on Monday.

The Health Ministry’s Director General of Pharmacy and Health Equipment Maura Linda Sitanggang reasoned that the drug production process made it too complicated for the ministry to pursue a halal certification.

“The Ministry itself is still not ready to ensure if the drug is halal or haram,” she said.

Linda said the Ministry’s current protocol deemed a drug ready for distribution once it had passed formula and safety tests. She added that most countries researching and testing medicines were non-Muslim, which makes rating their products as halal or haram a low priority.

The minister pointed out that haram-halal ratings might warrant the ministry add on a barrage of extra tests that could take up to 20 years to implement. And even then some ingredients which could be deemed non-halal still could not be replaced by another substances.

Linda said Indonesia was still unable to produce most new chemicals and had to depend on imported ingredients.

The request to the Ministry to create a halal drug certification system was submitted by the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI).

Lukmanul Hakim, the head of the MUI’s Food, Drug and Cosmetics Assessment Agency (LPPOM), said that most medicines used in Indonesia likely contained non-halal ingredients because 90 percent of drug ingredients nationally were imported.

Lukmanul suggested that non-halal drugs be used until alternatives were made available. However, he added, Indonesian scientists were responsible for finding a solution considering Indonesia has the biggest Muslim population in the world.

“We do have some pharmaceutical companies that can guarantee that their medicines are Halal, but the number is way too small compared to the amount of drugs distributed in Indonesian market,” he said.

A lawmaker from Commission VIII of the House of Representatives overseeing social welfare and religious issues, Muhammad Bahgowi, said the ongoing controversy about the importance of halal certification for drugs has hammered the House’s efforts to issue a halal bill. The bill has been included in the 2009-14 legislative program and House Commission VIII for religious affairs had been tasked with discussing the proposed law.

“We still need a further study and we still don’t know when the discussion about this Halal bill can be concluded,” Muhammed said.

He added that some believe the state should not be overly involved in religious matters, especially because Indonesia is not an Islamic state.

“There are so many different opinions about this issue, therefore we need deeper study,” Muhammad added suggesting that implementing the bill would be very costly and might require the government to raise taxes on the public.

The halal bill deliberation has been deadlocked since 2010 while legislators decide who will serve as the certifying body. The government wants the Ministry of Religious Affairs to handle the job, while most House factions want it to be handled by the MUI.

The pharmaceutical industry lamented the halal law publicly, claiming the ruling will dry up national chemical supplies. Companies have called the bill an unnecessary burden.

Iskandar, president director of state-owned vaccine producer Bio Farma, said the nation’s vaccine industry faces up to Rp 1.5 trillion ($156 million) in losses if the bill is passed into law.

MUI who championed the bill said that few food products, and even fewer cosmetics are certified halal by the MUI. According to council estimates, just 15 percent of all products sold in Indonesia have halal certifications.

In 2010, the Health Ministry was forced to ban the use GlaxoSmithKline’s meningitis vaccine because it had traces of pork. The pharmaceutical company’s vaccine was the only one registered for use against the disease at the time.

The same reasoning has disallowed Indonesia from producing its own meningitis vaccine.

Iskandar called the bill counterproductive, explaining that the government cannot both tackle the nation’s many health concerns and pass a sweeping halal-only law.

Therefore, he said, the vaccine industry has requested exemption.

MUI certification is currently voluntary in Indonesia. Cosmetic companies only account for 10 percent of requests received by the MUI.

Bio Farma currently earns 70 percent of its income from exporting vaccines to 117 countries, he said. The vaccine maker predicted a 15 percent boost in earnings this year.

The vaccine maker currently imports 95 percent of the raw material used to make vaccines, Iskandar said.