EXCLUSIVE – Following an “in-depth” investigation in the wake of a halal scandal that saw imported products – including pork – being deliberately relabelled and sold as fit for Muslim consumption, the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) on Tuesday withdrew its registration and cancelled all halal certification of Orion Cold Storage. Speaking to VOC’s Open Lines on Wednesday evening after the company was formally informed in writing of this decision, MJC secretary general, Maulana Abdul Khaliq Allie, said this decision makes permanent the MJC’s suspension last month of its halal certification.
He reported that instead of meeting with Orion CEO – Patrick Gaertner – personally, the ulema body sent its legal representative to convey their disappointment in the revelations that were expounded upon in court documents last month after two whistleblowers went public with the damaging practise. Orion has maintained that the relabelling had been done maliciously by two former, disgruntled associates who had an axe to grind with the company and had in fact “blackmailed” Orion.
“On the basis of what had happened at Orion – the fraudulent and illegal relabelling of imported products like pork as halal – the MJC last month suspended the halal certification of the company’s products, (which had been done at port) on a consignment basis. However, in the past month the MJC leadership had engaged extensively on this matter and have now decided to cancel and witdraw our registration of Orion as a halal importer. We can confirm that this message was conveyed to Orion,” Allie stated. Asked if this decision was open for reconsideration, the alim said: “That is not what is important at this stage.”
Because 60% of Orion’s client base in the Western Cape were Muslims, Allie said, it was important for the ulema body to make this decree public. “As for Orion’s halal clients, it now behoves them to take the necessary steps in this regard. The MJC cannot be held responsible for any further engagement between the company and its Muslim clients,” he emphasised.
However, he urged such traders to act responsibly, given its duty to the Muslim public. “We call on all meat traders to ensure that every product that they buy or import is accompanied by a halal certificate to clarify where it comes from, including the foreign halal certificates. This is an important part of the MJC’s halal procedures on imports. So we urge them to be absolutely certain that the products they buy meet these requirements.”
According to Allie, the Orion scandal had put the spotlight firmly on the MJC and its halal procedures. “However, the mere fact that there was a violation, compelled the MJC to launch a serious investigation and as a result, in our deliberations we came to the conclusion that at this stage, we are not interested in issuing any form of reconciliation on the issue with Orion. We took a principal decion to withdraw completely from the company in order to preserve the interests of the Muslim community and as such, Orion will no longer be recognised as a halal importer.”
This decision was in keeping with a meeting two weeks ago between the four halal issuing authorities where the other parties strongly urged the MJC to act decisively on the matter, including blacklisting it for life. According to the South African National Halal Authority (Sanha) and the National Independent Halal Trust (NIHT), anything less than a full withdrawal of halal certification would amount to a slap on the wrist in the wake of a scandal that rocked the SA Muslim community.
At the same time, Allie emphasised that the 18 chicken consignments from Denmark and Brazil which had been cleared by the MJC for Orion earlier in 2011, was “completely above board”. Earlier when the MJC suspended its certification, MJC deputy president, Sheik Achmat Sedick, said on VOC that the ulema body would start its probe by following up with its halal partners to ensure that the halal chain had not been compromised on products that were already cleared.
Allie reiterated that the MJC stood by its halal certification processes and procedures after double checking it following the Orion matter. “As the leadership, it is important for us to reaffirm our position on the halal imports which had not been affected by the Orion issue. The MJC has utmost confidence in the standards that we introduced and implemented, not only on local halal products, but also halal imports. In this regard, we adhere to the highest standards. Furthermore, it is our responsibility to re-evaluate it periodically, in order to give our community the reassurance that the products we certify are indeed halal.”
He added that the MJC remained committed to working with the other halal certifiers to discuss their concerns, adding that their halal standards and procedures remain open for other halal certifiers to take a look at. As for the public, the alim had a simple message: “We want our community to have confidence in our halal procedures and structures and we can give them the reassurance that our processes are indeed above board.” VOC (Munadia Karaan)
Last modified on Wednesday, 21 December 2011 18:06