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Philippines: DOST-supported Halal center building set to open

Photo: DOST Soccsksargen Regional Director Dr. Zenaida P. Hadji Raof Laidan

“To halal or not to halal,” with apologies to the Bard, that is the question in the global trade of Muslim food products.

At the center of the question is an estimated 1.8 billion Muslim population as of 2015, while the global market for halal foods reached $1.4 trillion in 2017.

If you were a food manufacturer, you would be crazy to not put your mind and wallet in the consistently ballooning trade of halal foods across the world. This is considering that nonfood products, such as pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, are not yet included in the equation.

Statista.com cited a report putting the market value of halal foods worldwide, predicting that the Muslim-friendly food products will climb to $2.6 trillion in 2023.

Science for halal products

One good thing for the fledgling Philippine halal industry is that the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) is promoting halal food through various initiatives.

Science Secretery Fortunato T. de la Peña, in a text message to the BusinessMirror, said: “We support the entire Halal Program led by the DTI [Department of Trade and Industry]. The DOST takes care of providing the facilities and laboratory test service to make sure that the food or product is free from components not acceptable for halal, like porcine and alcohol.”

The DOST, he said, now has three operational laboratories for halal forensic, meaning verification and testing, of products.

De la Peña was referring to the Halal Laboratories of DOST-Soccsksargen under Regional Director Dr. Hadja Shayma Zenaida P. Hadji Raof Laidan; DOST-Davao Region under Regional Director Dr. Anthony Sales; and DOST Calabarzon with Regional Director Alexander Madrigal, in their respective turfs in Davao City, Cotabato City and in Laguna.

De la Peña said each of the laboratory costs around P37 million, excluding the building where they are housed.

“We have trained technical staff. We also implement R&D [research and development] projects to develop new products. Other than food, there are health-care products and even cosmetics that should be halal,” he pointed out.

The DOST leader said the agency has a P100-million budget for research and training components.

‘Queen of halal in Asia’

In a related development, Laidan, because of her strong support and work to scale up the country’s halal industry, earned the honorary title “Queen of halal in Asia” during the January 2018 World Halal Assembly in Manila that was organized by DOST-Soccsksargen.

Bosnia-Herzegovina’s Mufti Mustafa Ceric, one of the experts and speakers during the event, conferred Laidan the title for her untiring effort to push forward the Philippine halal industry.

Apparently, Ceric recognized the DOST-Soccsksargen’s regional director’s various initiatives. Among them are her projects to establish a new and modern halal center in Koronadal City, South Cotabato; the halal laboratory in Cotabato City; the holding of international conferences on halal products and attending and participating in fora abroad, among others.

Barring any unforeseen events, the DOST-Soccsksargen will inaugurate in October or November what Laidan said “will be known as Philippine National Laboratory and Science Center Building [in Koronadal City] that will house [DOST-Soccsksargen’s] Philippine Halal Laboratory.”

“This will serve as a one-stop shop for halal. Before its completion, we already have an existing laboratory in Cotabato City operating since 2010. So, this will be strengthened if we can already transfer to Koronadal,” she added.

She cited the strategic location of the new halal laboratory, saying it is near big companies in the cities of General Santos and Davao, and international airports.

Attract foreign biz

Laidan hastened to add that the laboratory would provide halal services not only to local and national companies but also to international businesses. It seems it is working this early.

“Foreign companies are already contacting us, asking if they can come to see our building,” she revealed.

At present, she said DOST-Soccsksargen already has existing basic equipment to address the halal industry, but they plan to upgrade, thereby the need for its inclusion in the budget proposal for 2019.

“We will also try to enlist assistance from other entities,” Laidan said, not discounting potential assistance from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

Seal of quality

It can be recalled that DOST launched in 2015 the DOST-Soccsksargen’s Halal Logo, its Seal of Quality, which is internationally recognized, thus eliminating technical barriers in trading and export.

The process of halal certification, she emphasized, not only has a religious aspect but also includes scientific process to determine a product’s “halalness.”

For its Halal Logo, the DOST regional office adopted the OIC’s Standards and Metrology Institute for the Islamic Countries (OIC-SMIIC), which is accepted by the 57-member countries of the pan-Islamic organization.

Laidan emphasized the importance of a halal laboratory.

“We have forensic [verification and testing], the standardization of the products [because] different countries have different requirements and standards. So we are internationally recognized…. We know the standards of these countries,” she said.

She said the DOST laboratories will help micro, small and medium enterprises standardize their halal products, as well as their other products, noting that MSMEs have no laboratory.

Verification and certification

Laidan plans to make the DOST-Soccsksargen Halal Laboratory “a certifying laboratory,” meaning it is not just for the usual DNA verification and testing of products for pork and alcohol contents.

“We should be a certifying laboratory because other laboratories are only for verification,” she said.

The DOST regional director noted that some aspects or stages of the food process—from farm to plate—are not reflected or seen in the laboratory, like the slaughtering of animals, manufacturing, handling and preparation.

“So, we have two [functions], forensic verification and certification [that a product is halal],” Laidan explained.

She said for halal certification, DOST-Soccsksargen will tie up with the ulama, or high-ranking Muslim religious leaders, and Sharia lawyers.

Halal and hospitality industry

Laidan took note of the expanding halal global trade, citing halal and its importance in the hospitality industry.

In a speech in General Santos City during what was billed the “Student Power Conference 2018” recently, she said she believes that education must be taken seriously to empower future the human resources of the country that can contribute to the development of other halal industries for the Philippines’s inclusive growth and development.

The Joji Ilagan International School of Hotel and Tourism Management organized the event that assembled hundreds of participants from schools and universities, and hotel and restaurant managers from across the region.

Laidan cited the DOST regional office’s Philippine Halal Program in securing the integrity of food and services in establishing a Halal Hospitality Industry as a priority.

“It is by knowing and understanding the key concepts of halal and how to ensure its integrity that the Philippine Halal Industry can smoothly progress. With the DOST-Soccsksargen Halal Laboratory, we can protect our Muslim tourists with halal-certified kitchens and halal-certified food products,” Laidan emphasized.

“Halal, as a way of life, does not only focus on food and nonfood products. It also cuts across other services, including tourism, banking and financing, logistics and many others,” she noted.

The DOST regional office said the “Muslim travel market is now widely recognized as key growing tourism sector projected to be worth $222 billion by 2020 and is growing at an annual rate of 4 percent.”

The Philippines has much to gain from the global halal market that covers many aspects. It is high time for the country to benefit from its eco-friendly tourist attractions, plus its diverse rich culture.

What does halal tourism mean? It is not just about Muslim-friendly food and nonalcoholic beverages.

Huffington Post mentioned a few: It is about “halal activities, halal hotels, as well as being held in sites that are equipped with facilities in which Muslims can worship… places of worships in shopping mall centers and major tourism facilities.”

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Usman is a freelance journalist who is on science, information technology and current events, among others.

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