Indonesia: The Halal-Haram Labelling Debate

TEMPO.CO, Jakarta – The government should halt deliberations over the proposed

government regulations on halal product guarantees. The problem is that Law No. 33/2014 on Halal Product Guarantee, which is the main reference of this law, has fundamental flaws that will cause major problems for the public.

This law seemingly protects the constitutional rights of Muslims to carry out

their religious obligations. The government will do this by giving a guarantee that every product is halal, or permissible, through the Halal Products Certification Agency (BPJPH). If this government regulation is passed, the agency will be the only body with the right to issue halal certificates.

The enactment of this law and the ensuing government regulations are bound to create myriad problems. And companies will bear the brunt. They will be obliged to add halal labels to all food, drink, cosmetic, chemical and genetically-engineered products. The burden on companies will be even heavier because these certificates will have to be regularly renewed.

Companies unable to afford the cost of certification will go out of business. The other option, raising prices, risks causing a drop in sales, given that people’s purchasing power continues to decline as economic recovery is still elusive.

There will be another major inconvenience if this regulation is issued: every product without a halal label will have to be withdrawn from the market. Companies who fail to do this, face two-year jail terms or fines of Rp2 billion, in line with articles 56 and 57 of the law. Even companies whose products have halal labels will have to withdraw them so new labels can be attached.

If it is established next year, the BPJPH will only have three years to issue halal certificates for all goods and services. How will the agency be able to examine so many products in such a short time? It is not impossible that in order to meet this target, the agency will simply work as quickly as possible and become nothing more than a rubber-stamp body.

More crucial is the issue of halal certification for medicine. The investigations into the manufacturing process and ingredients of medication will be far more complex and time consuming, leading to higher costs. It is fair to anticipate that the price of drugs will increase.

The application of halal labels will disrupt the domestic medication distribution system. Almost all active ingredients of imported medicines currently in circulation do not have halal certification. Only one percent of 930 active ingredients come from this country. If all medication containing non halal-certified ingredients is banned, we can imagine the disruption caused with disease prevention programs. Patients who find it difficult to obtain medication will suffer greatly as a result of this regulation.

Yet again, this magazine suggests that what is needed is haram (forbidden) labelling, not halal labelling. This would save money, given the smaller number of non-halal products on sale here. The determination of which products contain pork, for example, could be left to nutritionists and pharmacists, without the need to involve religious scholars, as it is currently being carried out.

Implementing the Halal Product Guarantee Law would bring far more disadvantages than advantages. Therefore, the House of Representatives should amend this law. The responsibilities of of the government and the legislature include reducing high economic costs resulting from the commercialization of halal labelling. The excuse of protecting the interests of Muslims should not be used, if the end result is people having to pay even higher prices. (*)

Read the full article in this week’s edition of Tempo English Magazine