Hello Halal

By Janette Woodhouse
Monday, 11 December, 2006

Halal food is not just a small industry servicing a small sector of the population - it is big and rapidly growing bigger.

The Australian 2006 census figures are not out yet but they will undoubtedly reveal significant growth in domestic demand for Halal products similar to the 40% growth experienced between 1996 and 2001.

Demand for Halal certified product is not limited to the domestic market, worldwide there are an estimated 1.6 billion Muslims. In 2002, Australian food exports to Muslim countries were valued at $3.7 billion, an increase of 51% since 1997.

Since 2002, the levels have continued to skyrocket. In 2002, dairy exports to predominantly Muslim countries in Asia and the Middle East were worth more than $1 billion, with beef, veal and sheep-meat products valued at more than $330 million.

The Halal market is not homogeneous. For example, the French Halal market is dominated by consumers who are mostly from North Africa, while the British Halal market has a majority of Indian or Pakistani Muslims and the Dutch has an Indonesian majority. In fact, we cannot speak about the Halal market without knowing the specific population origin.

However, while we cannot talk about a single Halal market, there is a growing demand for mass-certified Halal products.

Muslim consumers must be assured that the food they consume meets Halal requirements under Islamic law. This encompasses the raw materials, ingredients and additives as well as the processing and handling techniques. Carnivorous animals, amphibians, all insects (except grasshoppers) and intoxicants are not Halal. Poultry and beef must be slaughtered in accordance with Islamic rites to render them Halal.

There are also stringent hygiene and sanitation standards that must be adhered to during the processing of the food. Halal and non-Halal products must also be kept separately throughout the supply chain to avoid the risk of contamination of the Halal products.

There has been an increasing demand worldwide for an all-encompassing Halal standard. A globally harmonised Halal certification system will help industries to expedite product development, reassure consumers, reduce the number of multiple certifications and thereby compress the supply chain cycle time.

Agreeing on one common standard for use by all 1.6 billion Muslims throughout the world is undoubtedly not going to be easy.

The Halal Industry Development Corporation (HDC), incorporated on 18 September 2006 as a private company, wholly owned by the government of Malaysia through the Ministry of Finance, is looking to ensure that Halal becomes an international standard which complies with other globally acceptable norms such as corporate social responsibility, sustainability, traceability, food safety, care for the environment et cetera. It quotes the lamb case in New Zealand as a prime example where all lambs are now Halal slaughtered.

HDC is partnering with Intertek, a global leader in testing, inspection, auditing and certification of products, commodities and systems. Some of Intertek's certification activities include ISO 9000, ISO 14000, GMP, WRAP, C-TPAT, BRC's Global Food Standard, IFS, HACCP and a host of other globally recognised standards.

The partnership aims to come up with Halal standard guidelines and best practices. To help accelerate the development of global Halal standards and best practices, Intertek has committed to invest AU$7.5 million to build a Centre of Excellence for Halal testing and training in Kuala Lumpur within the next 12 to 18 months. Aside from being a training centre, the institute will also house state-of-the-art testing laboratories catering for the Halal food industry.

Currently in Australia, there are about 14 approved Islamic organisations that provide Halal certification, inspection and supervisory services to the food industry. Only these approved organisations can certify food and beverage products as Halal for export or domestic consumption.

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