Shortsightedness on halal food issue

recent debates on mandatory halal food certification have so far
focused on whether this could be regulated by the state or if an
organization would be trusted to conduct the assessments.

Critics of the halal bill say since Indonesia has a Muslim majority, food and other products should, by default, be halal.

It’s the haram products, they say, that should be certified.

Proponents of the bill, however, suggest Indonesia’s large Muslim population get behind mandatory certification.

But are we only thinking of domestic consumption?

What about export?

There are more than 1.4 billion Muslims out there in need of certified
halal food. With around 1.4 billion Muslims worldwide this global
market is worth some US$600 billion (annually), Agriculture Minister
Anton Apriyantono said Wednesday at a seminar on halal food.

Being the perennial loser that Indonesia is, a highly pessimistic
scenario where we contribute a mere 1 percent to this market, we would
still stand to gain US$6 billion.

Halal-certified food production should not be limited to Muslims,
following the strict dietary law to take advantage of the relatively
untapped market.

Being a Buddhist country does not prevent Thailand, for example, promoting halal food.

Under its 2003 budget, the Thai government provided a grant for the
establishment of the then Central Laboratory and Scientific Information
for Halal Food Development at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok.

This center serves as the hub for Thailand’s halal science network.
Currently named the Halal Science Center of Chulalongkorn University,
the center works in cooperation with more than 10 laboratories based in
other universities and institutions across Thailand.

It is easy to find halal processed food in Thailand — canned tuna,
biscuits, you name it — in most retail outlets, from minimarkets to
hypermarkets, simply by looking for the halal sign.

Australia, a major meat exporter, has also begun focusing on exporting halal food and products.

Multinational food producers have taken advantage of halal
certification, producing certified food in central locations and
distributing it to other countries in the region.

Nestle for example, has chosen Malaysia as its center of excellence for producing halal food.

With such examples including non-Muslim countries making investments
and then reaping rewards from the halal food market, Indonesia needs to
concentrate on this lucrative business.

We should not waste time debating whether the halal label is necessary or not.

This could be a more productive endeavor but is extremely difficult due
to different views held by various branches and schools of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence).

Currently, there is no widely accepted standard and each country stands
by its own certification. Products certified halal in one country may
not necessarily be deemed halal elsewhere.

Indonesian poultry for example cannot be exported to Brunei Darussalam
since authorities there demand their own certification, Anton said.

Conversely, he said, when Indonesia plans to import meat from
Argentina, MUI send a team there to check the process even though the
meat is certified halal by Argentinean authorities.

A unified standard would remove these hassles and ensure a free flow of
halal food and products, in this era of globalization and free trade.

Critics of the bill also question the capability of MUI (which
currently issues halal certification) saying it lacks resources,
equipment and competence.

Others accuse MUI of taking money and kickbacks from supposedly innocent producers, by charging certification fees.

These issues could be resolved with better cooperation between agencies
such as food-related academic institutions and testing agencies.

Otherwise the MUI could move from being an operator to having a more
regulatory function by setting a standard such that various agencies
can take responsibility for the certification instead of the MUI

should focus on studying various halal standards so that halal food and
products from Indonesia would be accepted in most if not all other
countries with Muslim communities.

The main aim is of course, again, is to set a universal halal standard.

If MUI fears loosing certification fees, it could still charge testing centers and not food producers.

There is nothing wrong with charging fees as long as all the procedural
standards are met and upheld. The certifying business itself is already
big business. Take, for example, the certification of various ISO

decentralizing testing centers, halal producers could get products
certified cheaper and faster, thus expanding the halal market.