UAE: Global Halal food producers upbeat on Mideast growth prospects

Crowds at Gulfood exhibition in Dubai.
Crowds at Gulfood exhibition in Dubai.

DUBAI, March 1 — At the four-day Gulfood, the biggest food and hospitality fair which ended here Thursday, meat producers from East and West said the demand for Islamic or halal food emerged to an accepted global mainstream taste.

Halal food is not only about slaughtering a calf or chicken in line with Islamic law or Shari’ah, but also about preparing cheese, sweets and even cookies for the fast growing Middle East. At the Gulfood fair and exhibition, which took place in its 18th edition, where firms form all continents rivaled for retailers, hotels and restaurants which aim to sell the best halal meals to its Muslim clients and guests, respectively.

Once solely dedicated to Islamic world, the halal food industry climbed the business ladder up to become an international phenomenon, flourishing in Muslim and Christian countries likewise.

Diogo Cunha Ribeiro, commercial director at M. Cunha from Portugal, said that his firm with its egg-cakes entered the Gulf Arab markets one year ago, “and even for the cakes we needed a halal certificate because eggs are from animals.” Sharia-compliant or halal eggs shall not come from farms where pigs are held side by side with the hens, and when the eggs are prepared an Iman or a Muslim cook must speak an Islamic prayer.

The meat industry in Argentina, famous for their tasty steaks, has more experience than Mr. Ribeiro. Ismael Omar Khalil, general supervisor at The Halal Catering Argentina said that his grandfather who emigrated to Argentina from Lebanon 40 years ago. “Since then, most Argentine meat for the Arab world was certified by our family company,” said Khalil.

Halal meat must be free of animal blood and cannot contain any additives or flavors from pork.

“In 2012, Argentina exported goods worth 350 million U.S. dollars to the United Arab Emirates, a 100 percent increase compared to 2007,” Noberto Yauhar, Argentina’s minister of agriculture, told Xinhua.

The halal industry, spanning from food to finance, is one of the fastest growing business sectors in the world. Ernst and Young estimated the total trade value estimated at 2.77 trillion dollars. With 2 billion consumers worldwide, it grows over 20 per cent annually.

Nevertheless, not all sorts of nutrition have to be halal if exported to the Middle East. Stephen G. Jones, managing director of British cheese-maker Somerdale, said that whilst demand for English cheese was rising in the Gulf region, “the majority of our cheese eaten in the Arab world is non-halal.” Cheese which is produced from milk and salt does not need to be certified Islamic as it does not contain anything organic.