Opinion: Halal Certification for Global Markets

Salama Evans, HalalFocus

An overview on Halal standards, certification and accreditation

Companies large and small spend a lot of time and effort to acquire Halal certification for their products, and more so for global MNCs where Halal certificates are necessary for exporting to countries that require it. One of the drawbacks with this is that you often have to apply for several Halal certificates to export to different countries owing to different standards used, as the certification you have already obtained may not be recognised.

Regional Halal Standards

The issue here is would it be possible to have a global Halal standard? Most people in the industry would say no to that question. Various standard organisations and governments have and are trying to work on regional standards, such as the EU standard agency CEN tried working on one for the EU but this was stopped by the Muslims because they did not want non-Muslims to be included in the decision making.

In 2010 Turkey took important steps within the framework of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) regarding halal certification. Regulations including the Halal Food Standard and the Halal Accreditation Standard were approved by the OIC (Organisation of Islamic Cooperation), leading to the establishment of SMIIC (Standards and Metrology Institute for Islamic Countries) headquartered in Turkey.

Under the OIC which has 57 members being Muslim countries, SMIIC, which now has 38 members, 3 of which are observers, worked on various Halal standards, as there are different ones for each sector, which you would think would be a good starting point. However, it isn’t as simple as that because many of those countries haven’t even looked at the issue of legislating Halal in their country, though the number who are is quickly increasing now as they now see the potential for it.

In 2017, Turkey’s Halal Accreditation Authority (HAK) launched to strengthen Turkey’s central position in Halal product certification and accreditation, making the country a rule-making authority in the scope of Halal accreditation. Its goal is to set broad-based and technically solid Halal accreditation that adheres to rules laid down by SMIIC in collaboration with OIC and non-Muslim countries.

The biggest change came when Sheikh Mohammed bin Maktoum decided to launch his plan at the first Global Islamic Economy Summit in 2014 for Dubai to be the centre for Islamic Economy. Not long later, the Emirates Authority for Standards & Metrology (ESMA) began to enforce the ESMA Halal standard on all countries exporting into the UAE, and this standard required certifiers to be audited. In introducing this condition it opened up the issue of the accreditation of international Halal certifiers necessitating the IHAF, International Halal Accreditation Forum, that was launched in Dubai in 2016.

The GCC (Gulf Cooperation Organisation) are using GSO Halal standards, which are now a copy of the ESMA standard, with GAC, the GCC accreditation organization, certifying against the ESMA standard.

Malaysia’s government linked certification body JAKIM has for many years been the organisation that has recognised certifications bodies worldwide and created an official list of them. Previously this was like its own accreditation for Halal certifiers who would use it to authorise their own company on their websites. Then in 2018 Malaysia launched IHAB (International Halal Authority Board) meaning the days of certifiers without third party auditing are now coming to an end slowly. Every industry is audited, and now Halal has got to follow suit.

After the official launch of ASEAN, Indonesia called for ‘ASEAN General guidelines for Certification of Halal Food in 2019’ at a meeting with ASEAN Ministers of Agriculture and Forestry (AMAF) in October 2018. This could take a while, but it could be very beneficial for trade in the region.

Controversy for not labelling Halal certification on products

There is currently a controversy led by the Far Right in the EU reacting to the discovery of the Halal certification of Toblerone chocolate that is produced in Switzerland, with 98% for export, by the company Mondelez, to which Toblerone belongs. This is not an isolated case for Halal certification for products that do not show the Halal mark on their packaging. Many others have also had products and raw materials certified but do not acknowledge it.

With a Halal certificate, a manufacturer assures Muslim customers that the production of a product complies with Islamic dietary requirements, which in some instances may only be changing the alcohol ingredient they use to clean their machines and nothing to do with the recipe of the product itself as in the case of Toblerone.

For example in Switzerland, recently the Basler Ricola AG announced that their candies are now halal-certified. Emmi AG had some of its dairy products certified in 2000. Nestlé, Wander, Maggi and Barry Callebaut also hold Halal certificates. Nestlé was the first to have its own Halal Competence Center in Malaysia where various products are developed and researched. However, the products Néstle manufacture for the Malaysia market, for instance, will have a Halal mark on them for the discerning customer who needs to know.

Halal Certificates are Necessary for the World Market

The reason many companies choose certification is for access to this fastest-growing emerging market. Many of these countries have a large Muslim population that is young and consumer-oriented. Mounir Khouzami from the Swiss Arab Network said that the non-profit network aims to promote cultural and economic relations between Switzerland and the Arab majority countries. As an example for his statement, he mentioned Indonesia which has the largest Muslim population. Switzerland concluded a free trade agreement with Indonesia in December 2018.

“In Indonesia, according to figures from the United Nations in 2050, about 350 million people will live there. It’s a huge market.” said Khouzami.

Indonesia is one of the countries that has tightened its provisions on Halal certificates. From 2019, a law will come into force in Indonesia demanding that all imported products be marked with a Halal logo specifically issued by the Indonesian authorities.

This is a challenge for companies. A single certificate is often not enough to distribute the products in all desired countries. Other countries might also insist on adding their Halal mark to an already certified product before it can be distributed there, necessitating paying for two certificates. This will need to be something that the ASEAN countries will have to look to remedy in the future for easy trade between countries.

Experts are scrutinizing everything

For example, the Ricola AG. Ricola sweets are in compliance with the Halal Food Council of Europe (HFCE) standard. However, for sales in Indonesia, Ricola now has to apply for the local Halal mark supervised by Majelis Ulama Indonesia (MUI).

Obtaining a certificate is a time-consuming and expensive process for companies. For each certificate, external experts scrutinize everything: the origin of the goods, the production sites and the production processes. The company review is conducted by people who are knowledgeable about food technology and have completed training in Islamic law.

Because of this extra effort, many companies want a single certificate, which is valid everywhere. For example, Nestlé leaves open how many allowances it requests annually, as each product, ie: every new flavour, has to be certified individually. On request, however, it writes: “We would prefer the different certificates to be matched and the countries to mutually recognize each other’s certificates.” Nestle is in contact with various governments to achieve this.

Ricola would also be happy about a standardisation. “A certificate with worldwide validity would be practical and therefore be supported,” writes the company. With nonmeat products, this could be possible as the conflict usually comes with how the animal is slaughtered, though there can also be disagreements on the use of alcohol and gelatine, but these can be substituted.

Part of trade policy

Farhan Tufail, the founder of the Swiss company Halal Certification Services (HCS), does not expect that it will be possible to export to all countries with one certificate only any time soon. One reason, according to Tufail, is that there are differences between Muslim countries in how strictly they follow certain religious rules. There are also economic reasons for this: country-specific Halal certificates are also part of a country’s trade policy, Tufail explains. “Especially where large countries want to protect their market. They therefore build certain hurdles to control the import.”