Thailand seeking to increase global share of halal food market

Johan G. Janssen
Al Watan staff

Thailand”s cuisine has achieved a meteoric rise in popularity and now
stands proudly as a staunch international favorite alongside the
world”s longtime champions.
But as Thailand”s food exports are
growing by as much as eight percent per annum, the country has been
slow in catering to the international halal food market, an industry
that is estimated to be worth somewhere around one trillion U.S.
dollars per year.
The word halal is an Arabic term that means
permissible, and when used in relation to food means that its contents,
preparation or the techniques for slaughter animals are inline with
Islamic law.
It has been reported that 70 percent of the world”s
Muslim population of two billion people follow halal food standards, a
massive demographic that Thailand, which follows an agricultural policy
of making itself ”the kitchen of the world”, simply cannot afford to
While 10 percent of Thailand”s population of 64 million are
Muslim, it is the general lack of information concerning what
constitutes halal and non?halal food that is blamed by many experts as
the reason why the country has not been more competitive in the field.
While it may have fallen behind its Muslim neighbor Malaysia in the
field, Thai Muslim and non?Muslim food producers are increasingly
making use of government and privately funded facilities to learn how
to make their products halal and attain internationally recognized
certification that confirms their strict adherence to Islamic
procedures. Surprisingly, the world”s largest producer of halal food
is Brazil and the largest consumer is the United States, a little known
fact that underscores the fact that only 20 percent of the world”s
Muslims live in the Middle East.
The Central Islamic Committee of
Thailand (CICOT) is leading the charge to elevate Thailand into an
international heavyweight in the field through its Institute for Halal
Food Standards of Thailand, a government funded project that aims to
ensure that the development and certification of halal food standards
complies with the provisions of the Islamic religion and correspond to
international standards. The CICOT is an entity that runs under the
office of the Shiekhul Islam of Thailand Sawas Sumalyasak, a position
which is regarded as the leader of Thai Muslims and which is appointed
by the Thai king to act as his personal advisor on all issues related
to Islam. Also up and running since 2003 is the Halal Science Center
(HSC) of Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, a world?class laboratory
that provides state?of?the?art halal accreditation services by checking
for prohibited animal proteins, alcohol and the presence of microbes
that can be indicative of unclean and non?Islamic methods of food
production. According to CICOT statistics, 1,000 companies were
certified to produce halal food in Thailand in 2004, and that number
has grown since then. But according CICOT sources, Thailand has over
20,000 food producers and 50 percent of them are able to produce halal
food if they change simple procedures, a move which could boost halal
food exports five to tenfold.
One major Thai food producer that is
throwing its resources towards competing in the international halal
food market is Charoen Pokphand (CP) Foods Public Company Limited, the
flagship of Charoen Pokphand Group”s agro?industrial business in
Thailand, which operating agro?industrial businesses related to animal
farming and food manufacturing for the Thailand and international
markets. CP Group boasts a range of halal certified food products that
are exported internationally yet remains underexploited as a cost
effective producer as only a fraction of its halal goods are imported
by Middle East countries due to Thailand”s lack of a reputation for
such foods.
While 1,200 other Thai manufacturers exported halal
products worth almost two billion U.S. dollars in 2007, only twenty
percent went to the Middle East and the rest were exported to Malaysia
and other Muslim countries in Asia. With the concerted efforts of
government officials and entrepreneurs in Thailand, along with recent
successful inspections of Thai halal food manufacturers by the UAE”s
municipality and the Muslim World League, Thai meat products will
almost certainly start to become a increasingly popular in Middle
Eastern countries as local merchants realize the tremendous benefits
that trading with the world”s largest rice exporter entails.