INTERVIEW BY iPORTAL WITH SALAMA EVANS, Managing Editor, HalalFocus for their Women’s Stories – Women who inspire us series
At the end of 2020, the Halal Industry became a global focal point through fraudulent Halal meat cartel issues in S E Asia. Now, agencies around the world are in the spotlight to review their standard operating procedures and the validity of some Halal certificates. The ‘review’ movement is part of the global food sector being revamped because of digitisation, blockchain, IoT and AI.
We wanted to explore a timely and ‘must be addressed’ question, does the Halal industry, as a whole, require building ‘e-pathways’ to Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) technologies for food safety and traceability purposes, whilst protecting against fraudulent Halal certificates and ingredients.
We interviewed Salama Evans, Managing Editor of HalalFocus.com, a global source for Halal news, about how she first got involved in the Halal industry in 2004, and the progress to date. More importantly, we asked her the industry’s outlook in the context of adopting new technology for supply chain management in the Halal industry.
Salama Evans has been extensively involved global (inaugural) Halal conferences in Malaysia, London, Abu Dhabi, Brunei, and Dubai. She is also on the Advisory Board of OneAgrix, a new and innovative B2B e-commerce marketplace for agricultural and Halal food products.
“If you cannot hand over the full data for your product ingredients and where they are sourced, for fast recall, you will not be able to get on the supermarket shelves in the future”, said Salama Evans, an International Halal Expert, based in UK.
Now let’s hear what she says…
1. How & Why did you get involved in the halal industry?
My late husband, Abdalhamid Evans and I began working in the Halal sector in 2004 when a young professional couple who were building KasehDia, a media and communications company for the Halal sector, in Kuala Lumpur invited us to join them.
At that stage Malaysia was known for its Halal certification through the government office Jakim, under the Ministry of Religious Affairs. They were looking into creating industrial food production and trading Halal hubs in various states in Malaysia. The intention was to become the global Halal hub that would put them on the map for Halal products. These Halal ‘parks’ have still never been fully realised or fully developed into Halal ecosystems.
KasehDia decided a way to support the Prime Minister’s goal to become the Halal Hub would be to publish The Halal Journal magazine. The magazine was launched at the first international Halal exhibition in Kuala Lumpur, MIHAS, in 2004. MIHAS is still the largest Halal exhibition in the world and now organised by Matrade. It was through The Halal Journal we were able to show the vision for Halal to become an industry in its own right. We emphasised its potential growth by catering to the Muslim population globally which at that point was a fifth of the world’s population, but it has since grown to a quarter of the population, and is still rising.
The Halal Journal really was the beginning of recording what was going on with all aspects of Halal, and the various sectors included under its umbrella; which developed into being called Muslim Lifestyle Products. It was not just about Halal slaughter anymore, it progressed into other areas of food production and non-food sectors like personal care, cosmetics, travel, fashion and more recently pharmaceuticals, which still has its limitations for obvious reasons.
From there KasehDia decided, after visiting the International Islamic Finance Forum in Dubai in 2005, that we needed to do a large industry conference like it for Halal. KasehDia launched the first World Halal Forum in 2006 in order to bring up the issues surrounding Halal globally by inviting speakers from various sectors and countries with international delegates. The time was right, and the multi nationals, supermarkets, Islamic banks and hospitality sectors were ready to get involved in this exciting new industry sector in front of a full capacity audience with the vision of great things to come.
Every year after that Abdalhamid and I were involved with various Halal conferences to keep up the momentum of the growing Halal sector annually in places like Brunei, USA, Canada, UK, Malaysia and the UAE. The trend caught on globally and Halal conferences starting popping up all around the world promoting this new growth sector and debating Halal issues.
2. Tell us about HalalFocus, and is it a proxy on the trends for the halal industry?
I started HalalFocus in 2007 when we left KasehDia to work in Brunei which was launching its Brunei Halal certification and Halal food brand with the same name. We decided it was important to carry on with the work I had been doing with The Halal Journal magazine and website for the benefit of the Halal sector. I call it my ‘online filing cabinet for Halal’ which I share with the public. The main reason was to be able to show the growth of the sector chronologically. This was a new economic growth sector that a lot of people wanted to know more about and be involved in.
We encouraged building global Halal brands, or taking over a global brand and making it into Halal brand for a quick start. However, to this date, multinationals from non-OIC countries dominate all Halal categories, with only limited (and declining) involvement of companies from the Muslim world.
SMEs were starting new trends, with big advantages for young entrepreneurs to get involved, with the promise of a huge market potential for new Halal products. Country by country started to develop an awareness of Halal and also Halal certification, which many Muslin countries had not acknowledged yet. As long as it was muslim to muslim trading they felt that was guarantee enough. The potential growth figures started soaring. However, once again, whether that potential will ever come into reality remains to be seen. Many of the SMEs never got further than their first round of funding, but new Halal certification companies were established and grew in number all around the world.
3. With so many young Muslim entrepreneurs looking for new areas to work in, how do we entice more of them into to the halal industry?
The sad thing is that muslims do not invest in, or produce, their own Halal food normally. The successful ones are mainly Muslim family run companies. Lack of investment is probably one of the main reasons these entrepreneurs cannot enter into the food sector. Often muslim consumers are looking at low price, not the quality, though the younger generation are changing this outlook. Plus, there are many drawbacks because of the religious issues surrounding Halal food which can make things twice as
Personally, I can only think of two companies in the US, Saffron Road and Crescent Halal, that managed to achieve success with Halal integrity after years of research and slowly building their companies with strong foundations. They have even included ethical certifications for their products, that can withstand tests along the way, including animal rights protesters, and Islamophobia.
4. How do you see the progress coming up to the present time where now there are issues about bribery, corruption and fraud around Halal certification being openly exposed to the public?
I have to start with saying that this is not exclusive to the Halal food sector. The food industry worldwide has these same problems with fraud and traceability. This was the old way of doing business to make shortcuts. Fortunately, now we have the technology that will help to track and trace products along a supply chain. I believe that things that have been done in the past will no longer be quite as easy once everything starts being digitalised.
It will take time, but as the next generation takes over, new technology will be used for efficiency, food safety, and halal integrity. If companies cannot hand over the full data for their product ingredients and where they are sourced, they will not be able to get on the supermarket shelves. Supermarkets want to be assured that if a product recall needs to be done, it can be done in minutes not days.
Also sourcing ingredients for Halal production can be challenging, especially raw materials like poultry and meat, which can lead to fraud just to be able to meet the increasing demand. Having enough raw materials can make or break a business. Guaranteeing the added ingredients and additives which are just various powders is also challenging. They can often be mixed with other cheaper powder ingredients to bulk them up. One example was sesame husks being put into cumin causing the death of someone by an allergic reaction to sesame.
This is where authentication and traceability (including DNA traceability and market surveillance) technologies come in. Additionally, this has to be secured on immutable Blockchain so that the data cannot be tampered with. Exactly what we have incorporated as an ecosystem at OneAgrix, which will benefit upstream/downstream halal stakeholders globally. OneAgrix is the world’s first B2B e-commerce marketplace for agricultural and Halal food.
This is my priority now that I am on the Advisory Board of OneAgrix. In a post Covid-19 world, trust, transparency and sustainability are 3 words that must become inalienable to our relationship with food. This is what the Halal industry should be trying to achieve globally.
5. Why is the convergence between Islamic banking (compliant liquidity) and the Halal Industry (compliant opportunity) taking so long?
Again, this is the main stumbling block which we tried to answer at our first World Halal Forum. Also, Abdalhamid Evans went out to speak about it at the International Islamic Finance Forum in Dubai. Rushdi Siddiqui, CEO iPORTAL, called it ‘twins separated at birth’ at that time.
My view is, that people want a profitable, secure return on their investments, and no one is coming to them with a solid business plan to assure them of that. Halal still hasn’t proved itself worthy of the trust necessary to invest in it. There is no real collaboration to strengthen the sector, just a lot of Muslims arguing about what is right and what is wrong with little or no collaboration between them.
I am hoping this will start changing now with the OIC standards body SMIIC pushing forward with internationally agreed upon and adopted Halal standards. Remember this is not just one standard, there are currently 12 standards that have been completed, with more in the pipeline. Then following up with accreditation of recognised Halal certifiers. The manufacturers are also suffering because of the lack of clarity on Halal certification.
The main way the Halal sector is growing now is through the mainstream companies certifying some of their product lines Halal. However, often they do not label it as such in the West for fear of a rebuttal and currently they do not legally have to. They will just show the proof when asked for it if they are exporting to Muslim countries.
5. How will digitisation transform the Halal industry on the road ahead?
Slowly as new technology takes over there will be less possibility of fraud because it will be picked up through the data about the products becoming digitised using Blockchain, AI and IoT, including the halal certificates, which is already in place with OneAgrix. It will take quite a while to roll out globally, but the increased need for it, which is showing now with the recent meat fraud scandal in S E Asia, will force it to move quickly. OneAgrix is already using the DNA test kit technology to help small scale farmers who can’t afford to pay for certifications.
7. Finally, we lost one of the pioneers and thought leaders of the Halal Industry, Br Abdalhamid Evans, please share with the readers what you think his Vision for Halal now might have been.
Abdalhamid’s vision never changed, and is more relevant today than when we first began. He emphasised the need for third party accreditation, like all other industries have. This has finally started to emerge in various countries, but not in a unified way with discrepancy between Halal standards. We were aware of wrong doings when we came into the Halal sector and he felt this might be a way to help eradicate them.
Abdalhamid also always spoke about halal food being tayyib, pure, wholesome and lawful, which in the Quran you will always find alongside halal every time it is mentioned. This is becoming an encouraged part of people’s diets at this time because of various illnesses being caused through poor diet. Muslims come high in statistics for obesity and diabetes in Muslim countries. This has to be acknowledged in Halal food as well because it is how we were told to eat in the Quran. The quality of what we eat has to become what is important, not low prices.
It is only by Halal going mainstream with the same quality guarantees that the best of mainstream producers strive for that it will ever truly reach its potential growth figures.
Link to Salama Evans, please visit https://www.linkedin.com/in/salamaevans .