There were a number of takeaways from the massive Gulfood exhibition that recently concluded in Dubai.[Actually, it was a ‘city within a city’ phenomenon encompassing a combination of ‘diplomatic trade mission, global food festival, and greatly anticipated movie opening’. Was the 20th Gulfood Exhibition a sneak peek for Expo 2020 in Dubai?]
One of the most important points was starting the discussion about the process of re-positioning (halal) food/beverage as a consumer non-cyclical asset class from its present position of ‘only’ halal and associated certification bodies and rules.
The irony of the situation is Muslims, as whole, are contributing to its double-digit growth (base of $1 trillion), yet they are not financially benefiting from their own growing consumption habits.
The area that has not gotten much air-play is traceability (halal) in the food supply chain as part of the logistics supply sector. It may not be well understood that something that is ‘halal’ may become haram at the various streams in the food supply chain.
At upstream stage, questions needing to be asked:
— Where was the animal born? Factory farm environment?
— What was it fed? Ground up pieces of other animals? GMO?
— How was it raised? Free range versus a cage?
— Was it load up with antibiotics so as to grow it fast without health issues?
If, say, the animal’s diet comprised of ground up pieces of other animals and anti-biotics, then the sacrifice at the abattoir is irrelevant as it (animal) is ‘void from the beginning’ for consumption by Muslims.
If one looks at the 40-year-old plus organic movement, as a reaction to factory farming, the above-mentioned questions are the DNA for the movement. Thus, there is a general alignment between halal and organic on treatment of the animal before the sacrifice.
Some of the upstream questions: where were the animals sourced from, factories or farms, for halal sacrifice? What mechanisms are in place so that there is hard evidence on the humane treatment of animals? If an organisation is selling its products under the halal logo, it has responsibility to verify its source of supply or is this within the jurisdiction of the (resource challenged) certification body?
The midstream focus is on the transportation of the animal to the abattoir and the rituals associated with the sacrifice. There is much material on the subject matter, and two points to highlight are: One, evidence of healthiness of the meat and, two, the concept of ‘tayyeb’ (purity, whereas halal is ‘permissible’).
If the blood is ‘completely’ drained from the non-stunned animal (evidenced), then, it logically follows, there should be less bacteria compared to stunned animal when the packaged product is on the supermarket shelf! Thus, this becomes a health issue and not a halal issue for dialogue for the media, conferences, academic journals, etc.[A conversation also needs to be undertaken (resulting in a scientific study) on the levels of anxiety and pain of the animal before the slaughter/sacrifice. The so called ‘barbaric’ nature of the halal slaughter (by the halal hysteria movement) needs to be de-mystified with scientific studies (on anxiety and pain) that are replicable. The recent news of the inhumane treatment of animals at a halal abattoir in UK has nothing to do with halal, but oversight of incompetent people violating codes.]
Second, a segment of the Muslim population wants non-stun hand slaughter, yet, are they prepared to pay a higher price because of the economic inefficiencies (today)?
A properly sacrificed animal’s ‘meat’ (halal) may become contaminated at various stages of transportation from the abattoir to the super-market shelf. Thus, what was halal at the abattoir has become haram due to, one, chemical composition changing due to proximity to say, alcohol, swine, etc, two, liquid (melted water or even blood) from swine packages/crates touching halal packaged meats, and so on.
Having said that, all products are usually packed for storage and transportation offering protection to the product itself and avoiding contamination in general.
However, for logistics providers today there is no established way to identify halal product shipments upon acceptance. This may lead to co-loading with non-halal products in the same container or halal products may be loaded in containers which carried pork or alcohol products in previous transportations. Awareness is still lacking in logistics even though an international Halal Logistics Standard was published in 2010 already.
There is no tracking, no records in place so that the dimension of the potential problem is unknown.
In a smaller context a recent development relating to the last section of the supply chain to the consumer is remarkable:
For example, separate check-out counters for non-halal / pork products have recently been implemented in supermarkets with non-Muslim sections in Dubai. Dubai Municipality has clarified the handling of respective products and implementation of already existing rules.
Packages with pork items should be tightly sealed to avoid any potential leakage of liquids or any direct contact with a conveyor belt. However, in order to mitigate any contamination risk separate check-out counters have been assigned. Peace of mind for the Muslim consumer.
There are several assumptions that exist in the market place for the (food importing) Muslim countries:
— There are robust halal guidelines for halal logistics, be it from air-cargo, sea-cargo and trucking. This includes the ‘handover’ of product packaging crates and containers from one shipper to the next one in the supply chain.
— The government or appropriate designated body traces the halal meat/chicken from upstream by way of, say, GPS type of bar coding.
— The government has dedicated or has mandated space (at the port) for halal crates/containers.
— The government or appropriate designated body has mechanism in place where cross contamination actually has taken place (evidenced), hence, the now contaminated meat/chicken is, say, discarded or destroyed.
The assumptions need to become rules based and carried out by appropriate designated body. Why? Muslims do not control the halal food supply, hence, the integrity risks linked to logistics need to be measured, mitigated and managed.
The writer is a co-founder and chief executive of Zilzar. Views expressed by ?him are his own and do not reflect the newspaper’s policy.