Saudi Arabia: Need for halal standards for food additives underlined

RIYADH: Participants of the first international conference on halal food under way in Riyadh on Monday stressed the dire need for legal standards to determine the lawfulness food additives.

Riyadh Gov. Prince Sattam inaugurated the conference and a related exhibition in the Saudi capital on Sunday.

The first ever such event, which is being held under the support of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, was organized by the Riyadh-based Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA).

In a paper presented at the conference, Mian Nadeem Riaz from Texas said the term food additive applies broadly to chemicals, both natural and synthetic that are added to food, either intentionally or indirectly to facilitate processing, extend shelf life, improve or maintain nutritional value or enhance the food’s organoleptic qualities.

“Some products would not be possible to produce without additives,” Riaz said.

However, he added that some of the food additives have serious problems with respect to their halal status.

For the food industry to serve the halal market, he said, it is very important that they know the halal status of these additives. He pointed out that some of the common additives are derived from sources that are not halal, for example pigs and animals slaughtered without abiding by religious directives. “Even when the food additive is listed in the ingredients statement, the source of the additive is not.”  He added that some food additives, such as processing aids and anti-caking agents, are not required to appear on the ingredients label. Because of the way they are processed, he said, some foods may become contaminated with non-halal chemicals such as food grade equipment lubricants.  “To make sure all aspects of the food production is halal, food companies need to assure halal consumers that all of the ingredients are halal.”

Joe M. Regenstein, professor of Food Science and head of Cornell Kosher and Halal Food Initiative at Cornell University in the United States, said slaughter needs to be improved in consistent with all religious rules.

The religious community needs to take on this responsibility with the help of the scientific community that has their best interests in mind.

The scientists must maintain credibility. “Real science, and not agenda science that manipulates the data, is needed to actually evaluate all slaughter systems,” he said.

“As a scientist I am disappointed at how little science has done in this area. The impact of the traditional religious slaughter needs to be separated from a number of extremely important issues that are not religiously required but confound the research outcome, for example, the people, the facility, the equipment and the non-slaughter stress of the animals need to be optimized before looking at the impact of the traditional religious slaughter procedures,” Regenstein said.