Malaysia: Halal cert a passport to success


Getting halal certification from Jakim is good for business but there are some who are wondering if the effort is worth it.

HAKIMAH Mohd Yusoff chuckles when asked about the oddest thing that Jakim has been asked to certify as halal.

“Furniture! One manufacturer wanted to have its furniture certified halal’ but we said sorry, we don’t have a standard for that’.

“Another asked for knee replacement implants to be halal-certified but these are metal and we can’t process that.

“One wanted Jakim to certify his live goats halal’ but the goats are still alive. How can we do that? It is only when it is slaughtered that we can certify if it is halal or not.”

Malaysians can be a bit peculiar sometimes, adds Hakimah, director of the Halal Hub Division of Jakim (Malaysia Department of Islamic Development).

Slow process: It took Chung’s factory in Hong Kong eight months to get its halal certification for its Three Crabs fish sauce.

One entrepreneur selling dates from Saudi Arabia was stunned at the recent Mihas global halal trade fair in KL when Malaysian buyers wanted to know if the Saudi dates were certified halal.

“I don’t know if it’s a joke or if they are playing with halal. Dates are fruits. Who gives halal certificates to fruits?” asks Mustafa Iqbal, whose head office is in Jeddah.

He says the dates are not processed or stuffed but merely cleaned and packed yet Malaysians still ask if they are halal.

Concurring, Jakim’s Hakimah says dates are fruits so it is fine for Muslims and there is no need for them to be halal-certified. But, she notes, manufacturers see halal certification as a “marketing tool”.

Just take chicken eggs.

These are naturally halal but Hakimah says some local industries selling eggs want Jakim to give them a halal certificate because they believe it will giving them an edge over their competitors.

Jakim’s halal certification does not depend purely on whether a product complies with the syariah requirements alone as it also takes into account other aspects such as if the process, hygiene, equipment, storage and safety and standards are quite stringent.

“So some industries feel having a halal logo and label would add value compared to a product that has not been certified halal. And I don’t want to dampen their aspiration,” Hakimah says.

Wasli Ibrahim, managing director of Pawada Food Industries Sdn Bhd, received halal certification for the ground pepper his factory produces. Why?

“People are emphasising halal these days. Between a halal and non-halal certified product, buyers would prefer the halal one, so for me it’s a marketing strategy,” he admits.

In recent years, there has been a lot of interest in the halal industry not just in Malaysia but also in other parts of the world with a Muslim population. Both local and foreign manufacturers are tapping into this market.

Four categories

In Malaysia, halal certification is divided into four main categories food and non-food products like cosmetics, soaps, shampoo, toothpaste; restaurants and food premises; slaughter houses and logistics.

Most applications for halal certification, of course, are not as frivolous as for black pepper and eggs but are in fact warranted and legitimate.

Jakim is the sole body in the country authorised to issue halal certification. In the past, state reli gious bodies could issue their own halal certification with their own logos but not anymore.

“Last year, the government decided it was not effective to let states issue the certification because when industries want to export their products, they find they can’t export them as halal’ products because those (importing) countries only recognise Jakim’s halal certification. So now, there’s only one issuing body (Jakim) and one logo,” says Hakimah.

She adds that the halal logo issued by private entities such as Ifanca International, Halal Food Council S.E.A, and IFRC Bahtera Lagenda is no longer recognised by Jakim.

No secrets: Yi and Research and development senior executive Siti Noraizan Ramly have no problem in giving Jakim a list of all 23 ingredients in the phytonutrient drink their company manufactures. — NORAFIFI EHSAN / The Star

Like most things, there is a process to get the certification. It starts with filling up an online application (on the Jakim website) listing out every raw material (including water) used to make the product and stating if these are halal.

Next, the manufacturer would need to submit documentation with the halal certification for each of these raw materials.

If Jakim finds everything in order, it will ask for the fee to be paid, after which it will carry out an unannounced audit on the factory.

An inspection will be done on the raw materials to determine if they are indeed from the sources stated, the processes and whether the factory complies with the requirements as well as hygiene and safety standards.

If there are things lacking, Jakim will advise the manufacturer concerned to rectify the problem.

Last year, Jakim received 4,237 applications for halal certification and it certified 1,674.

Mohamed Zulfikar Ibni Mohamed Hazri, manager of DMG Food Industries Sdn Bhd, finds that if a manufacturer has all the necessary documentation, it is easy enough to get the halal certification.

But some say that despite all the proper documentation, they end up waiting for up to six months for their halal certification because Jakim is short-handed.

“The government is doing a good job promoting the halal industry and we are riding on the advantage. Our selling tool is halal and new oil-rich Muslim countries like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan prefer to buy from us rather than Europe because we are halal.

“But what we want is efficiency. After we have met Jakim’s halal requirements, why do we have to wait six months for the halal certification? We are doing business. That’s lost opportunity for us.

Amir Salleh: “I thought getting halal certification from Jakim would be easy but it’s been nine months. It’s not worth it, so I think I’ll give up”

“Jakim needs to speed things up and get more manpower. Some of our products have up to 50 ingredients. Does Jakim have the manpower and expertise to go through the documentation for the 50 ingredients,” asks the general manager of a huge Malaysian food manufacturer who declined to be named. It took Chung An-Hung’s factory in Hong Kong, which produces premium Three Crabs fish sauce, eight months to get its halal certification from Jakim.

This included paying for the flight and hotel stay for two Jakim officers to audit the factory in Hong Kong. The factory also now employs two Muslim workers a Jakim requirement for certification.

The fish sauce sells for RM18 and is relatively new in the Malaysian market but as it has already made a name for itself internationally, Chung can’t tell if getting the halal certification has boosted sales.

But he maintains that the effort was worth it.

“Yes, I would do it all over again. I learnt a little bit about the Muslim community because of the halal issue. And if the Malays accept it here, we can use the halal certification to penetrate other Muslim markets,” he says.

A long slog

Hakimah says Jakim has 154 people in the halal hub section involved in the certification process but they cater to three different major jobs processing the application, auditing the factory, and monitoring.

And the same team handles both local and overseas manufacturers seeking halal certification.

“I won’t deny there are times when we are short-handed and applications can get stuck for a bit. That is one of the challenges we face. But the delay can also be due to us finding non-conformance during the audit process, so we have to go back to the client and ask them to make the changes,” she says.

DMG’s Mohamed Zulfikar says applications for certification can get held up when a supplier cannot produce the halal certification (for the raw materials). He finds it odd too that Jakim demands halal certification for raw ingredients like salt and sugar.

“Our butter cookies use no animal fat and are suitable for vegans. We use 15 raw materials and Jakim wants halal certificates for each of the 15 ingredients including sugar and salt. Sugar and salt should not need to be certified halal but Jakim insists on it,” says Mohamed Zulfikar who studied food science and technology at university and is well versed with how raw ingredients are processed.

“Butter is made from milk. You don’t need to slaughter a cow to get the milk. There are no enzymes from pigs or from any animal in butter yet Jakim wants a halal certificate for it. Flour is from wheat and when you put wheat into a grinder it becomes flour, so why does it need to be halal-certified?” he asks.

He also points out that while suppliers are allowed to produce halal certificates from the countries they import the raw materials from, “there are some halal certificates that Jakim recognises and some that it doesn’t.”

“If the supplier can’t produce a (Jakim-recognised) halal certificate, we would have to change suppliers even though it may cost us more. Some manufacturers cheat.

They submit documentation of the raw material from a halal-certified supplier but later, without Jakim’s knowledge, they switch to another supplier because it is cheaper. That is a silent policy going on in the industry,” he says.

Currently, Jakim only recognises 57 halal certification bodies from a total of 31 countries which is a relatively small number. Of this, none are Middle Eastern countries.

Hakimah explains: “When Jakim first started halal certification, it was mainly for meat so the certification was primarily for imports from non-Muslim countries like Australia and New Zealand. With time, the list expanded.”

She says that before Jakim recognised the 57, it checked their systems, standards, capacity, expertise in syariah, technical knowledge, food technology and even went over to witness how they carry out their audit to make sure that it is up to Malaysian standards and procedures.

Suspect ingredients

People in Middle Eastern countries are asking why they need to have their products halal-certified because they feel that as they are Muslim, naturally all their products are halal, Hakimah says.

“But we ask them about their gelatin, additives and emulsifiers. Are they made locally or imported? If they are imported, are they sure these are halal? That has made them think again. Now these countries are aware and are interested in setting up their own halal certification body and have asked for our assistance.”

As for sugar and salt needing to be halal-certified, Hakimah refutes this. She says that while Jakim does ask for the source and supplier of all ingredients, it does not demand halal certification for sugar and salt.

“Sometimes the industry doesn’t check with us and just bases things on hearsay. They should ask us,” she says. But when it comes to water, she says, there is a possibility of it being not halal.

“Water from the pipe is not a problem but when it comes to distilling water, some parts of the equipment can be made up of bones and if the animal is not slaughtered then the water is not halal,” she explains.

But what about concerns that listing out ingredients to Jakim is as good as giving away one’s trade secrets or recipes? Phyto Herbal Industries’ factory manager Yi Chee Hwa does not have a problem with this.

It manufactures a phytonutrient drink formulated with 23 ingredients and gives Jakim a list of all 23 ingredients complete with halal certification for each. Hakimah says all Jakim wants to know is what the ingredients are and not the formulation.

“We just want to know what you use. Otherwise, how can we tell if it’s halal or not? We don’t ask how much sugar or how much salt you put in. That’s your secret. A company will never reveal its formulation and we don’t ask for it either,” she says, adding that even huge companies like Pepsi and Coca Cola have no problems listing out their ingredients.

The Pepsi and Coke made in Malaysia have been certified halal.

Jakim charges small industries RM200, middle-sized industries RM800 and multi-national industries RM1,400 for the two-year halal certification. Hakimah describes this as only a “token”.

“Our expenses are more than that especially if they had to correct some things and we have to return to do a re-audit. When we do audits in Malaysia, we pay for the flight, transport and hotel stay ourselves. We are doing it as a government service so we are not profit-based. And I think our fee is probably the lowest in the world. Singapore and Indonesia charge more,” she says.

She stresses that manufacturers are not obliged to apply for halal certification. But Mohamed Zulfikar says that without the halal certification, sales will definitely be affected.

“We don’t use animal fat at all but there is a thing called customer stigma. So we have to get halal certification to give customers the confidence.”

The food manufacturer who declined to be named, adds that 70% of his customers are Malays and without the Jakim halal sticker, many would stop buying his products because they would be wary.

As for imported goods, Jakim approved halal certification for 35 products last year. When Iranian Amir Sallehi, who imports Clipper’s organic tea and coffee from Britain into Malaysia, applied for halal certification from Jakim, he found the requirements were more than he bargained for.

Jakim wanted to visit the factory in the UK to do an audit for this he would have to bear the cost of the flight and hotel stay and there was the specification that there must be two Muslim staff working in the UK factory.

“It’s just tea and coffee and it’s organic and imported in places like the UAE. The principal company doesn’t need the halal certification because its product is organic, and they told me I have to pay the cost.

“I thought getting halal certification from Jakim would be easy but it’s been nine months. It’s not worth it, so I think I’ll give up. I can put the tea and coffee on the shelves in supermarkets here without the halal sticker.”