Opinion: Is Self-certification an Abuse of the Term ‘Halal’?

By Zena Butt

1-20130619-16551-12520-picThe amount of Muslims in the world is astronomical and as an outcome of these mammoth numbers, the Muslim community represents a huge potential market that many national and international companies and organisations are tapping into.

Muslims today represent 4.8% of the UK population and in Europe the Muslim share of the population is expected to grow by approximately one third over the next two decades. With increased numbers of Muslims, wider demand for halal compliant produce is rising; recently we have seen the launch of the 100% halal ready meals spearheaded by Shazia Saleem – founder of Ieat Foods. The Ieat website (www.ieatfoods.com) guarantee consumers that their products have been halal certified by a reputable UK certification body.

In direct contrast however, if one peruses our everyday supermarket aisles, we come across a variety of products – from ethnic foods such as samosas to frozen lamb burgers that can go straight onto the barbecue – many with the globally recognised Arabic ‘halal’ emblazoned across the packaging but with no mention of the certification body which has accredited said products as halal.

Self-certification of halal products is rife in Britain; due to the vast Muslim consumer market there is a want and need for more halal products and as a direct result, more consumer choice. Consumers do not want to feel excluded when they do their weekly shop, they want to go to the supermarket and have as much as choice in the products they buy as their non-Muslim friends, colleagues and peers. Despite this, it remains imperative to understand where the products we are eating have actually come from. If a product has ‘halal’ written on it, can we fully trust it?

If a company is marketing their products as halal, the meat may be from a halal source, but has the entire production process been halal approved? Is the said product free of all non-halal additives and E-numbers? Is it free of non-halal oils and fats? Are the emulsifiers that have been used 100% sourced from halal slaughtered animals? If yeast has been used in the finished product – was it autolysed or brewer’s yeast? If cheese has been used in a product, is animal rennet or pepsin used in the cheese production? When the processed foods are transported, are suitable transportation methods put in place to stop halal products from being contaminated by non-halal items? These are just a few of the questions that need to be considered to ensure a product is 100% halal.

All of the above need to be taken into account and looked at in depth – a task that is undertaken by halal certification bodies across the world. The method by which the animal has been slaughtered is not the only factor that solely determines halal compliance and this is something that consumers need to understand. CEO of the UK certification body Halal Food Authority (HFA), Saqib Mohammed, tells me that “merely having the word ‘halal’ in any transcript depicted on product packaging means next to nothing unless said product has been independently certified by recognised halal certification body(ies) depicting their registered logo. We at the HFA strongly discourage the use of self-certification and will consumers to seek further information to unveil probable misrepresentation or abuse of the term ‘halal’”.

Echoing the sentiments of the HFA above, the term ‘halal’ can be put onto a product but this does not mean that the entire production process of the product in question has been looked at from start to finish. The question “how are we supposed to know what is halal and what isn’t?” may arise by the time you have gotten to this stage in the article, and the truth of the matter is – if you don’t ask you won’t know. Consumers need to become proactive to ensure that they are not eating any products that would not be seen as permissible in accordance to Islamic law. When stocking up your trolleys on the weekly shop, before you put the halal goodies in, take a look at the back of the product to see if the logo of a reputable, trustworthy certification body has been put on the packaging, if not a logo – is there any mention of the halal certification body that certifies the company? If not, before purchasing the product, enquire about its halal compliance. With the rise in social networking, asking questions and making informed decisions has never been easier.

The growing numbers of self-certified products are purely down to the fact that there is a place in the global halal market for them to exist; if consumers seek something and the want is large enough then gaps will be filled. If more consumers question and contest self-certified halal products and refuse to purchase items that they cannot fully trust, the amount of self-certified businesses who ‘assure’ Muslims that their products are halal will begin to dwindle – and as a result, the lucrative halal market will be left with dependable products that are categorically 100% halal.

Seek the knowledge. Be informed. Share your findings.

Halal Food Foundation