Saudi Arabia: Scientists, scholars to redefine Halal

Riyadh Gov. Prince Sattam opens an exhibition at the international conference on halal food in Riyadh on Sunday. (AN photo Iqbal Hossain)


RIYADH: Riyadh Gov. Prince Sattam inaugurated the first international conference on halal food and a related exhibition in the Saudi capital on Sunday.

The program held under the aegis of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah is being organized by the Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA).

On arrival at the Prince Faisal Conference Hall, the prince was received by SFDA Chairman Mohammed Al-Kanhal and other senior officials of his organization.

Speaking on the occasion, Prince Sattam said it is fitting to note that the king had given his support to this conference, which had attracted global as well as local leaders in the halal food industry.

“The conference will provide an effective platform for Islamic scholars and dieticians and others involved in the food industry to exchange their experiences and viewpoints on the production of halal food in the world,” the prince said.

He hoped the recommendations of the conference would reassure Muslims the world over on the quality of halal food consumed by them. “Islam gives us the guidelines as to what we consume in our daily life,” the prince said.

In his speech, Al-Kanhal said the Kingdom feels happy and elated in organizing the first ever such event under the aegis of the king. “People look upon Saudi Arabia as the cradle of Islam and we have to show the world the type of halal food that can be consumed for their own good health,” he added.

“There are around 1.8 billion people in the world who consume halal food and its global market is valued at SR2 trillion,” he added. The Kingdom imports food from 150 countries. He estimated the food industry in the Kingdom produces goods worth an average of SR250 million a day.

“The conference aims to elucidate the concept of halal food and its requirements from an Islamic perspective and to present the technical and economic aspects of halal food in the light of its increased global demand,” Al-Kanhal said.

“Besides boosting public and private sector cooperation in the relevant food industry at national, regional and global levels, it would also serve as an ideal platform for exchange of experience between countries in the field of supervision and control of halal food.”

“The SFDA has brought scientific and religious scholars to a common platform to explore new ways of improving the global halal food industry and to chalk out a mechanism to maintain a uniform check on the quality as well as the regulations adopted by the local authorities to ensure that the food consumed is halal,” Al-Kanhal noted, adding that the Kingdom has a responsibility toward the cause.

A total of 60 technical papers will be presented during the scientific session of the conference. “They will be distributed across eight sessions and delegates will be able to exchange their ideas on various topics regarding halal food.”

The main sessions will focus on genetically modified food, lawfulness of food additives, analysis methods of halal food, control of halal food, its standards, certification and countries’ experiences in halal food control.

There will be two panel discussions on stunning and automated mechanical slaughter and the lawfulness of food produced using biotechnology and nanotechnology, among others.

He said the mission of the SFDA is to ensure the safety of food, quality and efficacy of drugs, and the safety and effectiveness of medical devices by developing and enforcing an appropriate regulatory system.

Supreme Judicial Council Chairman Saleh bin Humaid said Islam clearly lays out the principles involved in the production of halal food. However, he said halal food is no longer limited to matters such as the methods of slaughter, whether it is free of pork, other dairy products and alcohol.

“Now the issue is more complicated, especially with respect to imported food by virtue of the tremendous development in production technology, manufacturing and trading of food, such as the use of biotechnology, nanotechnology, food additives and many others.”

Therefore, he said the situation makes it imperative for Islamic countries to agree on maintaining uniform standards and specifications to better facilitate the food trade.

“The conference reflects a holistic view of this topic and we hope to come out with directions and recommendations in such a way that wherever a Muslim comes from, he would be assured of pure halal food,” Al-Humeid stressed.

Sheikh Saleh Kamel, president of the Federation of Islamic Chambers of Commerce and Industry, said the food industry was estimated at $640 billion in 2010, when the world Muslim population was 1.6 billion. “Muslims form a significant part of the consumers,” he said, pointing out that a vast majority of halal products are imported from non-Muslim countries.

Kamel hoped the conference would discuss the challenges faced by the halal food industry and that delegates would resolve some of the issues faced by the industry. He requested international organizations and private institutions to discuss this vital subject and request them to come up with recommendations that can enhance global trade and harmonize halal food requirements, conditions and control methods.

On Monday, the first scientific session on halal food monitoring was chaired by Ibrahim Al-Mohizea, vice president of SFDA for the food sector.

During the second session, Ibrahim Al-Sheddy and Mohammed Al-Debessi from the SFDA presented a paper on halal food certification.

Describing halal food as a global concept, they said it is being adopted by non-Muslim countries too since the Kingdom imports the majority of food items from these nations.

There is strong need to ensure the quality, safety and compliance of imported foods with the provisions of Islamic law, they added.